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'Saturday Night Fever' bringing disco back to Eastlight

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Tamra Challacombe faced a problem many community theatre directors have when time to cast a musical. That is, there are sometimes more than one or two shows in production, leaving a potential shortage of singers and dancers.

Then again, not every director gets a talented actor from New York to play her lead character, either.

“I do have that. And what a difference he makes,” Challacombe said before a recent dress rehearsal of “Saturday Night Fever—The Musical,” which opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria.

The role of Tony, made famous by John Travolta in the movie of the same name, is being portrayed by Todd Michael Cook, a Peoria native who has acted professionally in New York for several years. This will be the second time since he went to New York that he has come back home to perform in a local show. He returned to perform in “Company” at Corn Stock Theatre three years ago.

“I ran into him at Corn Stock Theatre early in the summer and told him what I was directing. I kind of joked with him about needing a good Tony. He asked if I meant Tony Monero and I said yes. And here he is,” Challacombe said.

With Cook leading the way, Eastlight Theatre is ready to bring out the disco ball and lights and let Baby Boomers take a nostalgic trip back to the late 70s and early 80s, when disco and the Bee Gees were king. “That is the main appeal to this show. ‘Saturday Night Fever’ was a popular movie and this musical absolutely follows the movie (script),” Challacombe said.

“Not only that, we can be introducing the younger generations to some of that great disco music,” she added.

“Saturday Night Fever” was written by Nan Knighton with music and lyrics by Barry and Maurice Gibb – the Bee Gees. It tells the story of 19-year-old Tony Monero, a poor Brooklyn kid with not much to look forward to except his Saturday nights at a local disco, where his dancing skills have made him a celebrity.

There he meets and falls for Stephanie Mangano and forgets about his troubles and those of his friends.

This is a show with more downs than ups throughout the story but it does have an uplifting finale, which Challacombe said she hopes will have the audiences dancing in their seats and in the aisles at Eastlight Theatre, which is in the auditorium at East Peoria High School.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the energy of this show, in the music. I just want our audiences to enjoy it,” she said.

Aside from Cook, there is another New York connection in this production of “Saturday Night Fever.” Stephanie is portrayed by Vicky Snyder, a New York native who transplanted to Bloomington with her husband because of work.

Other performers include Jo Blume as Annette, Courtney Swan as Candy, Matt Stubbs as Joey, Tannen Scrivner as Gus, Simeon Abby as Double J, and Jerrod Barth as Monty.

Community theatre veterans Chas Killen and Dan Challacombe play multiple roles in the musical, as do several others in the cast of 26. Keeping her family involved, Sophie Challacombe leads the dancers, with Tamra as the choreographer.

Toni Redling Shafer is the music director.

“This has been a lot of fun to direct and it has been challenging. The cast can’t wait for the curtain to go up,” Challacombe said. “We have a great cast and some great music.”

“Saturday Night Fever” starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, then at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 through 17.

Tickets are $21 and can be ordered by visiting

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).