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Stayin' Alive?

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If its backers are to be believed, Saturday Night Fever is the ultimate prodigal musical -- first roasted by the theater Establishment, then rescued from its disco inferno by popular demand. But just how critic-proof can this show be? To recoup its $9 million outlay, it'll have to dance around some wildly negative buzz -- including outrage by movie loyalists -- that could discourage out-of-town parties from following Tony Manero into Manhattan.

Associate producer Manny Kladitis claims he's already sold $20 million worth of tickets, only $2 million of that through group sales. Long-term success, then, will depend on individual tickets. And while Kladitis says the show is "extremely well sold" through March, a quick visit to Ticketmaster shows good orchestra seats still available every Saturday night in January and February (in fairness, the Death Valley of Broadway's calendar), including on Valentine's Day weekend.

With $500,000 in weekly expenses, 1,700 seats to fill eight times a week, and an $80 top ticket price that can't play well in Tony's Brooklyn 'hood, Fever is not quite a lock yet. But Kladitis dismisses naysayers. "We expected critics not to relate to the show," he crows. "I mean, look at Donald Lyons or Ben Brantley -- I don't think they've ever been to a disco in their lives!"

Harsh words from the man who brought us Man of La Mancha with Sheena Easton. And, it turns out, wrong. "I spent many nights in Studio 54," protests the Times's Brantley, who believes word of mouth will chill Fever. "All they'd have to do is play the album and have some hot dancers onstage, and it would be better than what they've got."


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