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This Ain’t No Disco

A zany, sensual new rock opera about the rise and fall of Studio 54 with a great pedigree including Stephen Trask, composer/lyricist of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

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Peter LaPrade as Rake and cast of “This Ain’t No Disco” (Photo credit: Ben Arons)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

This Ain’t No Disco, the new rock opera by Stephen Trask and Peter Yanowitz (music, lyrics and book) and Rick Elice (book), has a great pedigree.  Trask wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Elice Jersey Boys (among others).  Yanowitz is a rock musician of note.  And, director Darko Tresnjak had great success with A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder (amongst other projects).

This Ain’t No Disco is a compressed, zany look at the years in the 1970s that Studio 54 ruled the social whirl of New York City, complete with debauchery, drugs, loud music, semi-nudity and dancing (brilliantly evocative choreography by Camille A. Brown—herself no slouch with Once on This Island under her belt.)

The libretto hews closely to the facts about the rise and fall of this mecca of A-list celebrities, including real people—Steve Rubell, Andy Warhol (here called The Artist)—and a host of fictional characters who represent a cross-section of the clientele, from pretty boy bartenders/drug dealers to undercover government agents looking for a chink in Rubell’s armor.  The Mudd Club also makes a guest appearance as well as the homes of several of the characters whose mixing and matching drive the play.

Samantha Marie Ware as rock star Sammy in a scene from “This Ain’t No Disco” (Photo credit: Ben Arons)

Jason Sherwood’s glamorously cluttered, multilayered scaffold set provides many performing areas and Sarah Laux’s period perfect costumes—lots of glitter, tight undies, fringe and the occasional three-piece suit—give resonance to each of the characters, particularly as their fortunes change.

Chad—later aka Rake—a pretty boy hustler (Peter LaPrade, perfectly cast) whose life has lost focus, has adjusted to the sexual demands of the sex-mad customers and Rubell (an oily, serpentine Theo Stockman who throws himself into the role with zest).  The checkroom girls—Meesh (Krystina Alabado) and Landa (Lulu Fall), both terrific as artists full of ambition, spunk and love—give emotional support to Chad as he makes his way in this crazy house.

Sammy (Samantha Marie Ware, passionate and believable) is the black single mother of cutie-pie Charlie (a very self-possessed Antonio Watson) and a friend of Chad’s.  Sammy takes pride in being a tell-it-like-it-is punk poet until fame beckons.

Chilina Kennedy as gossip reporter Binky in a scene from “This Ain’t No Disco” (Photo credit: Ben Arons)

Binky, a down-and-out, very pushy, very Jewish publicist (Chilina Kennedy, who manages to find humanity in a crass character) sets her sharp claws in Chad, promising him fame and fortune.

Hovering around like an oversized Sherlock Holmes is The D.A. (Eddie Cooper, playing to the hilt voluptuary and public servant) enjoys the pleasures of Studio 54 while indulging in all its sins.

Serving as a world-weary Greek Chorus, The Artist (Will Connolly, droll, coolly sensual, a perfect Andy Warhol stand-in whose fame will last far longer than fifteen minutes), wanders about spouting witticisms and wilting observations.

Will Connolly as The Artist in a scene from “This Ain’t No Disco” (Photo credit: Ben Arons)

The alternately wistful, thoughtful and passionate score, with the emphasis on disco anthems, carries the show along at a breakneck pace until the crazy plotlines unwind abruptly to reveal a pretty, domestic ménage, satisfactorily landing the survivors of the craziness in a micro-mutual admiration society, a bit of a cop-out, perhaps, but a relief from the preceding mayhem.

Lighting designer Ben Stanton and sound designer Emily Lazar deserve high compliments along with the projections of Aaron Rhyne and the wigs and makeup of Mike Potter.

Tresnjak’s direction, along with Brown’s vivid, twisty take on disco dancing, uses every square inch of the Atlantic Theater’s stage.  The dancing is particularly appealing, although the singing and acting are topnotch, too.

This Ain’t No Disco (through August 12, 2018)

Atlantic Theater Company

Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.atlantictheater.org

Running time:  two hours including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (279 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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