When John Travolta first appears onscreen in “Saturday Night Fever,” all you see are his platform shoes strutting down 86th Street in Brooklyn. Consider it foreshadowing — the movement of his feet is what makes the 1977 film about a dazzling disco dancer iconic to this day.
On Saturday, the disco lights get turned on again at “Saturday Night Summer Fever,” a themed concert re-creating the multiplatinum soundtrack at NYCB Theatre at Westbury.
“ ‘Saturday Night Fever’ is the mecca of disco. It’s what put the genre on the map,” says Joe “Cool” Reina, 43, of Disco Unlimited, the event’s house band. “It reflects a time in music that is unparalleled. These songs are still played on the radio and people know them by heart.”
The film centers on Tony Manero (Travolta), a 19-year-old cocky but charming hood who lives with his parents in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, spends his days working in a paint store and his nights tearing up the floor of 2001 Odyssey disco, a real club that once existed in Brooklyn.
“People always told me all my life that I looked like John Travolta,” says Phil Francavilla, who lives in Ronkonkoma but grew up in Bay Ridge. “I used to work on my hair like Tony Manero did in the movie, and my father would say to his brother, ‘Can you believe this guy? He thinks he’s John Travolta — two hours in the bathroom working on his hair!’ ”
Francavilla will appear at the Westbury event, dancing in Travolta’s signature white leisure suit. “I like to bring good energy to the room,” says Francavilla. “I get people up and dancing. They go crazy for it.”
The crowd also will meet the man who taught Travolta all those smooth moves, choreographer Deney Terrio, who hosts the Westbury show.
“I was raised with a lot of African-American dancers, and their fluidity is beautiful,” says Terrio, 65. “The combination of their style and Fred Astaire is what I tried to instill in John. It’s about having fun, but being confident.”
Travolta’s dance partner and co-star, Karen Lynn Gorney, who played Stephanie Mangano, will do the Hustle on stage with Terrio. When Travolta and Gorney originally met, some adjustments had to be made before they could conquer the dance floor.
“John’s a lot taller than me, therefore I had to extend my steps and he had to pull his in so we would match,” says Gorney, 71. “We had little rehearsal because there was no time. It was a miracle we pulled it off.”
The film’s soundtrack comes alive as original acts The Trammps, Yvonne Elliman and Tavares perform their hit songs while Disco Unlimited plays the Bee Gees’ tunes as part of the celebration.
Elliman, who dropped out of the music scene for 20 years, is back and ready to deliver her single “If I Can’t Have You.”
“The minute people hear the beginning of the song, they say it takes them right back to 1977,” says Elliman, 64. “It’s nice to be a part of everybody’s past.”
When Travolta and Gorney practiced on screen for the big dance competition and their characters began falling for each other, the song playing was “More Than a Woman” by Tavares.
“The song helped us cross over from the R&B chart to the pop chart, which was huge,” says Ralph Tavares, 74. “Once people saw Travolta move to that song, everybody wanted to dance just like him.”
One of the most memorable moments in the film was Travolta commanding the dance floor while the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” played over the speakers.
“They needed some local culture in the film and ‘Disco Inferno’ was a natural selection because it was a favorite at2001 Odyssey,” says Ed Cermanski, the Trammps’ keyboardist. “New York was the scene for that kind of music. Once the movie came out, it spread to the rest of the world.”
“Saturday Night Summer Fever”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m., Saturday, June 4, NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury
INFO 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com