The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Katie LaDuca, who comes from the Saturday Night Fever national tour to play Stephanie in the Palace’s rendition this spring. Courtesy photo.

Saturday Night Fever 

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: April 14 through May 6
Admission: $25 to $45
Contact:, 668-5588

Clearing the dance floor
Palace presents Saturday Night Fever

By Kelly Sennott

 While growing up in the early ’80s, Palace Theatre Artistic Director Carl Rajotte’s older brothers often made fun of him for taking up dance — until they needed new moves for Saturday night.

“I’m not old enough to have been in my heyday in the ’70s, but I was training in the very early ’80s with teachers who had a ’70s style,” said Rajotte, who was the youngest boy of 13 siblings. “[My brothers] spent the week waiting for the weekend to go to the disco or the roller rink. … They would make fun of me, but then they would pull me into their rooms and say, ‘Give me a couple of steps.’ … They made up dances during the week in their rooms so they could do it on the floors of the clubs.”
So teaching in these styles isn’t that much of a stretch for Rajotte, who’s readying for the Palace’s next mainstage show, Saturday Night Fever, which runs April 14 through May 6. He’s able to pull out those ’70s and ’80s moves at any moment.
For his actors, it’s a different story. Contemporary dancers typically take up small, contained spaces. In the ’70s, you wanted to be big. 
“And I think that’s why you see the iconic pose of Travolta pointing up to the sky,” Rajotte said. “They did what they had to do during the week. But then it was about clearing the dance floor. Do you have the steps for people to back up and watch you?”
Saturday Night Fever is a musical based on the 1977 film starring John Travolta, following a 19-year-old Italian American from Brooklyn named Tony Manero who finds an escape from his dead-end paint store job dancing at the local discotheque. It features tunes by the Bee Gees and remains fairly true to the original story, but with darker plot line elements — like drug use, violence, rape — omitted.
“It’s about a 19-year-old being stuck in his environment, and he doesn’t know any other way out. He longs to do more with his life than sit around,” Rajotte said. 
The film is based on the 1976 New York Magazine story by Nik Cohn, who later acknowledged he made it all up, 20 years after the fact. Regardless, the Library of Congress deemed the movie culturally and historically significant, selecting it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2010. 
Rajotte designed the show to resemble the iconic flick, from costumes and sets to casting decisions. Because how could you do Saturday Night Fever without that iconic white suit, or without a lead who can bring the charm like John Travolta?
“I think it would be wrong of us to try to start from scratch with these characters. I think everybody knows John Travolta did this role,” said Rajotte, who hired Jared Troilo for the the part, known to Palace audiences as Joseph from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Tony from West Side Story and Danny Zuko from Grease
Wigs will be big with curls and feathered hair, and the stage will be lit with neon and intelligent lighting, plus 15 on-stage disco balls. Instead of a light-up dance floor, there will be a light-up back wall, visible to audiences in the balcony and the front row.
Five actors — Katie LaDuca, Anna Baker, JJ Butler, Banji Aborisade and Kitty Brown — come to the Palace straight from the Saturday Night Fever national tour, and a couple are Palace regulars, including Cathy McKay, a New Hampshire resident who plays Flo, Tony’s mother. 
McKay was a teenager during the release of Saturday Night Fever and remembers the impact it had at the time, musically and culturally.
“Everybody who grew up in that era remembers this music,” said McKay, who did some of her own disco dancing while at Keene State College, the thing to do for teens and 20-somethings at the time. “Everybody went, and everybody danced.” 

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