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This Ain’t No Disco review at Linda Gross Theater, New York – ‘a visual and aural assault course’

With a with a title like This Ain’t No Disco it’s tempting to reply that this ain’t no musical, either. Instead, it’s an impressionistic jumble of songs and scenes that aim to recreate the spirit of the late 1970s and early 1980s club scene in New York, and in particular the heady cocktail of music, dancing, sexuality and celebrity around Manhattan’s iconic Studio 54.

So we get name-checks of some of its more famous patrons like Liza Minnelli, Elton John and Bianca Jagger, and a character simply called the Artist who’s blatantly modelled on Warhol (he even gets to spout his line about “15-minutes of fame”). As played by Will Connolly, the latter wanders through the action distractedly, with hair like a kitchen mop. What we don’t get, at least with any substance or continuity, is a through-line of character or plot, as a succession of different people vie for attention and stage time.

It’s impossible to get to know or care about anyone and Darko Tresnjak’s relentless production is a visual and aural assault course, with dizzyingly blinding lighting from Ben Stanton, and a set of scaffolding platforms and projections that recall the milieu of another grungy club-land musical Rent.

Co-composers Stephen Trask (creator of the 1998 underground cult hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and Peter Yanowitz offer a succession of pulsating electronic beats from which tunes only intermittently break out.It was enough to make me nostalgic for the Pet Shop Boys 2001 musical Closer to Heaven, which at least had some great melodies.

For anyone who wants a real reminder of disco excess, Summer, the biographical musical based on the life of Donna Summer, [1] at least comes with a slew of great, familiar tunes.

Verdict
Ambitious but misfiring clubland musical about the iconic Manhattan nightclub Studio 54

Production Information

Production
This Ain't No Disco
Venue
Linda Gross Theater
City
New York
Starts
June 30, 2018
Ends
August 12, 2018
Press night
July 24, 2018
Book
Stephen Trask, Peter Yanowitz, Rick Elice
Music
Stephen Trask, Peter Yanowitz
Lyrics
Stephen Trask, Peter Yanowitz
Director
Darko Tresnjak
Musical director
Darius Smith
Choreographer
Camille A Brown
Set
Jason Sherwood
Lighting
Ben Stanton
Sound
Emily Lazar
Cast includes
Theo Stockman, Peter Laprade, Chilean Kennedy, Will Connolly, Samantha Marie Ware, Krystina Alabado, Lulu Fall
Producer
Atlantic Theater Company
Running time
2hrs 30mins