I Like Him if He’s Real but I Love Him if He’s Fake

This Ain’t No Disco, announces the title of a new rock opera about Studio 54, which was, in fact, a disco.  There seems to be some confusion between artist and art: a recent promotional piece in the New York Times chronicles the fortunes of the Mudd Club, which was not a disco but is also not the subject of this show.  This Ain’t No Disco is far more concerned with the final bacchanalian days of Studio 54.  Which was, just so we’re clear, a disco.

It’s a minor issue in a show packed with larger ones.  Studio 54 is legendary, and the potential for a rock opera is enormous.  But writers Stephen Trask and Peter Yanowitz have taken this Mecca of the glitterati and homed their focus on two fictional characters, the single mom punk rocker Sammy (Samantha Marie Ware) and the aspiring artist Chad (Peter Laprade), who find themselves caught in the undertow of the hedonistic celebration right before the ceiling comes crashing down.  Sure, it’s peppered with some famous faces, like Andy Warhol (Will Connolly) and Steve Rubell (Theo Stockman), but for the most part we watch as Chad fails and return to hustling while Sammy picks up a speed habit from Warhol: “I don’t do drugs,” he assures her.  “They’re prescription diet pills.”

The result, then, is rather pointless and dull, stuffed with forgettable tunes and anchored by a boilerplate Star Is Born narrative.  Mr. Stockman is terrific as Rubell: lining his sinuses with cocaine and fashioning himself a modern-day Christ, we’re never quite sure if his motivation is sensual ecstasy or suicide.  But he’s relegated to the sidelines, along with everything else that made this place interesting.  Studio 54 hosted a horse on the dance floor and inspired an orgy in the streets.  A rejected entrant once fired shots at Rubell, while a gatecrasher, dressed in black-tie, died sneaking in through an air vent.  None of this is featured here.  At one point, Warhol eulogizes, “If you make a building out of lights, when you turn them off, it disappears.”  But we were never shown the lights in the first place.

This Ain’t No Disco runs through August 12th at the Linda Gross Theater.  336 W. 20th Street  New York, NY.  2 hours 30 minutes.  One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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