Here are lyrics from a song in the new musical “This Ain’t No Disco” that creatives Stephen Trask (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) and Peter Yanowitz hope will make us yearn for the golden age of disco, circa 1979-80, when everyone was flocking to after-hours clubs like Studio 54. Give a listen: “Rollerboy angels are skating / Glistening pectorals smooth / The beat and the pulse are creating / An anthem your soul for to soothe.”
Doesn’t it just make you want to jump over that velvet rope and claw your way inside, where all the beautiful people are getting drunk and stoned and having fun? No? Well, consider yourself saved, because the rest of this new musical is just as dumb as that dopey lyric.
In its heyday, the nightclub that Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell (played here by a crazed-looking Theo Stockman) built into the honeypot known as Studio 54 was, indeed, the cool place to be. On any given night, Andy Warhol would be holding court on a couch, Mick Jagger would be leaning against the bar and Liza would be giggling with a gaggle of boys. And if you were young enough, pretty enough, and dressed to kill, you didn’t even have to be famous to get in.
Trask and Yanowitz, although mesmerized by those authentic images, haven’t translated them into anything resembling the bona fide originals that inspired them. The costumes are imitative, the performances are caricatures, and — here comes the mortal blow — the choreography is awful. A lot of the missteps committed in this exuberant if clumsy homage can be forgiven, but not the choreography, which is all energy and no style.
Granted, the mindless book, also the work of Trask and Yanowitz (with help from Rich Elice), offers little for choreographer Camille A. Brown (who made magic in “Once on this Island”) to work with. A retread of the perennial theme of the artist as revolutionary outsider, the story trots along after Sammy (a sullen Samantha Marie Ware), a street kid whose scruffy punk style is immediately recognized as an avant-garde statement by The Artist, played by Will Connolly and bedecked and be-wigged a la Andy Warhol. “I rather like the hat,” is his gnomic comment on Sammy’s singular style.
Once inside the club, we’re exposed to lank imitations of some long-ago real deals. To advance the floppy plot, there’s a pushy publicist named Binky (Chilina Kennedy) who transforms an eye-catching hustler named Chad (Peter LaPrade) into a trendy artist re-named Rake. And to give us a taste of the “real” people behind the glitz, there are two hat-check kids named Meesh (Krystina Alabado) and Landa (Lulu Fall) to throw shade on the V.I.P.s who throng the club. But like everything else in the show, the characters lack authenticity. That makes them hard to sympathize with and harder to satirize — all in all, just hard to take.
From Studio 54 to the Mudd Club to an anonymous loft in Tribeca, Chad and Binky and the rest of the strivers trawl the city, looking for the “real” action. Strange to say, the repetitive music doesn’t lean into the changing trends, while the choreography just re-works the same old steps for tired feet. This ain’t no disco, to be sure.