Theater: Stayin' Alive

A Hollywood disco hit boogies to Broadway

In its quest for Broadway respect, Saturday Night Fever has done almost everything wrong. It's a big, splashy musical trying to replicate a hit movie, a pretty crass way to make a buck. Its director, Arlene Phillips, is better known for staging extravaganzas in Las Vegas. The show is loud and pushy and panders to the crowd shamelessly. Worse, it overcame critical hoots to become a smash in London, a feat it now has the audacity to think it can repeat in New York City.

But here's the knotty question: Is it possible to recognize a show's base commercial motives and...

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