Performing Arts: Theater
August 2, 2018
“Anything goes” – that was the motto for the drug induced, sex-soaked, ribald 1970's. Point of contact for much of this decadence was the midtown Studio 54.

This Ain’t No Disco at the Atlantic Theater exploits this fevered center of sex, drugs and punk howls. Assembling a dead-on cast, the new rock opera by Stephen Trask and Peter Yanowitz zooms-in on Studio 54 and to a lesser extent the downtown Mudd Club. Band members are split between two sides of the third tier of an iron platform that wraps around the stage. Disco cages house dancers writhing and contracting around the bars while the hordes multiply on the ground, desperate for access behind the proverbial velvet rope. An energetic production, the show benefits mightily by the combined talents of director Darko Tresnjak and choreographer Camille A. Brown.

The story of eccentric egos flushed through dark clubs and “15 minutes of fame” centers around the sensational punk musician Sammy (Samantha Marie Ware), her sweet, dear friend and failed artist Chad (Peter Laprade) along with a PR/agent gab-about Binkey (Chilina Kennedy), The Artist—better known as Warhol (Will Connolly) and the infamous Steve Rubell (Theo Stockman).

At his point in cultural history, young, undiscovered artists were becoming a commodity. And it took people like The Artist or Binkey to sell them. A club employee, Chad blows-off college for some free time that can only be funded through “tricks” until his father dies bequeathing him an unexpected stack of money.

At Rubell’s urging and Binkey’s manipulations, Chad tries to transfer his T-shirt drawing talents to a professional plateau. But the critics don’t buy it and after another disastrous “marriage stunt” Chad tumbles back into the street. Running parallel to Chad’s story, Sammy, the “girl with the hat,” frets over caring for her son, finding herself and navigating a punk music career on the arm of The Artist.

These multiple threads of drug induced dreams crash into an unquenched greed for fame, fortune and fun. The score features several songs that could stand-alone, including The Artist’s final aria, but several numbers blur into one another adding unnecessary weight to the much longer first half.

Brown’s choreography contributes to the raucous, sex-soaked atmosphere, adding back-up dancers behind the lead singers, drawing out personalities through the change of movement styles, from the more refined modern dance steps to the body rippling club dances and African based stomps. In fact, more dancing might have amped- up the first act.

Additionally, the lighting by Ben Stanton paints light throughout the show-- throwing shafts of beams inside the dark, vibrating dance club until the space separates into bright particles under the disco ball, or pushes white light on the harsh daily encounters, and darkness over glaring truths. What doesn’t work so well is the balance between the cookin’ band led by Darius Smith and the singers. Because of this imbalance, the lyrics are frequently unintelligible which is unfortunate because the lyrics tell the story.

All the performers deserve a round of applause, with some additional kudos going to the slimy, snarky Stockman as Rubell, the booming voiced Eddie Cooper as the D.A. who finally brings down Rubell and The Artist who weightlessly floats through the crowds that ultimately disperse as the 1980’s and the Age of AIDS rips apart New York City’s unsuspecting arts community.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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