@ Ruth Eckerd Hall

Since opening in 1983, Ruth Eckerd Hall has been providing South Florida audiences with world-renowned entertainment ranging from dazzling Broadway acts and splendid symphony orchestras to family-friendly shows. This 73,000 square-foot concert hall houses 2,180 plush, mint-green seats arranged in a continental style around a grand center stage.  The audience chamber not only impresses in size, but also in sound. REH provides show-goers with resound acoustics, which have consistently placed the concert hall as one of the best in the Tampa area.

Located in Clearwater, the Ruth Eckerd Hall brings Broadway closer to the Tampa area than ever before with seasonal Broadway lineups. The Broadway lineup for the 2015-16 season continues with Saturday Night Fever on Friday, March 18. Originally debuting on Broadway on October 21, 1999, Saturday Night Fever is based on the 1977 film of the same name starring John Travolta as Tony Manero, a Brooklyn-born, Italian-American guy with disco dreams but a working-class reality. 

The film not only helped cement the career of a young Travolta, but it catapulted disco into mainstream culture. The soundtrack, which featured hits by the Bee Gees such as “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep is Your Love,” “Night Fever,” and “More Than A Woman,” subsequently became one of the best-selling soundtrack albums of all time. The soundtrack also won the Grammy for Album of the Year, confirming disco’s newly-acquired stronghold of the pop charts and mainstream audience.

Before the film brought it to the mainstream, disco primarily operated in the gay, black, and Latino underground. Originating in Philadelphia and New York City, disco fostered a community for marginalized groups to express themselves, their identities, their ethnicities, their sexualities, openly through dance.  The music melded elements of salsa and psychedelia with Motown funk and soul. With an emphasis on percussion and synth, disco music provided a beat to not only dance to, but to groove to.

The rise of the DJ coincided with the emergence of disco. Turn-tables and glitter balls became the necessary fixtures in discotheques and studios around the US. Artists like Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Bee Gees, The Trammps, and Grace Jones defined disco while other artists such as Diana Ross and The Jacksons dabbled in disco and enjoyed crossover appeal. Not to mention, The Village People gave us a song that remains relevant to wedding DJs everywhere. Yet, the ‘Y-M-C-A” did not yield the dance of the disco decade.

In 1975, soul and R&B performer Van McCoy recorded and released “The Hustle,” which became the dance of the disco era. Many variations of The Hustle emerged during the mid-to-late 1970s, highlighting the dance’s influence on the scene, but the original reigned supreme. Disco was now a movement with a movement. It was like none before it.

The disco scene was glamorous and fast-paced, in stark contrast to the counterculture movement of the ‘60s which favored flower-power to turn-tables and peaceful protest to disco dancing. Disco’s lavishness, its glitz and glamour, could shut out the financial hardships of the decade; it could render unimportant the political fallout from a futile war in Vietnam. Watergate didn’t matter. The supposed imminence of nuclear warfare or communist invasion didn’t matter. Only the beat did.

Saturday Night Fever displays the escapism and liberation inherent to disco. It details a young man’s escape from his working-class blues, from everyday life, from his father’s disapproval to the liberation of his very self through disco. The story is a universal one. No, it is not the story of Saturday night escapades or of disco fashion’s flowing Halston gowns, lamé dresses, and white polyester leisure suits. It is not a story about the glamour of disco or the iconic Studio 54. Beyond the turn-tables and the clash of the percussion is a story of self-discovery and following one’s dreams. Although the play is set in 1979 while the movie was released in 1977, the same essential story remains from movie set to Broadway stage. 

Furthermore, the Broadway play includes many of the same songs as the film soundtrack. You will be groovin’ to the same iconic hits from Bee Gees such as “Jive Talkin’” and “Stayin’ Alive,” one of the most memorable songs of the disco decade. The play hits the Ruth Eckerd stage on Friday, March 18 at 8pm. Tickets vary in price from $35-$150, and can be purchased online through REH’s website or at the ticket office Monday-Saturday 10am to 6pm. Shows typically sell out quickly, so don’t wait to get your ticket for a night of disco fever.

If you are interested in seeing more Broadway shows at REH, the Broadway lineup for the 2015-2016 seasons rounds out with the Woody Allen—penned Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical on Sunday, March 20, and ends with Let It Be, a theatrical celebration of musical group and cultural icon The Beatles on Saturday, April 9.