by: Paulanne Simmons
These days 54 Below is Broadway’s Super Club, an intimate cabaret where people can hear and see many of Broadway’s hottest performers. But those of a certain age remember a very different Studio 54 of the 70s, when this venue was the epicenter of the disco world.
It was here the likes of Liza Minnelli, Mick Jagger, and Elizabeth Taylor came to hear the likes of Donna Summer, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Gloria Gaynor, Sylvester and Diana Ross. Their songs were powerful and pulsing, and everyone danced through the night. It was decadent and it was glorious. Today it’s just a memory.
But the good news is that for one evening Scott Coulter brought those days back to life with a glorious (if not very decadent) new show, Turn The Beat Around: 54 Below Celebrates Studio 54. And those lucky enough to attend left regenerated and/or rejuvenated.
Even before the music began, it was apparent something very different was about to happen. Tables were rearranged to make room for a dance floor in the middle of the room, and over the dance floor a mirrored disco ball twirled slowly, reflected the surrounding colored lights. Then Coulter, wearing cool shades, entered singing “Disco Inferno,” and the evening began.
Coulter and his talented troupe (Cheryl Freeman, Donna Vivino, Mike Schwitter, Blaine Krauss, Devin L. Roberts, Jessica Hendy, Lennie Watts, William Blake, Tyce Green, Blair Goldberg, Mary Lane Haskell, Brian Charles Rooney, Susan Agin, Kelli Rabke, Will Porter, Justin Talkington) sang all the songs that set people’s hearts pounding and bodies gyrating: “Love Train,” “I Will Survive,” “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance” and a thrilling Village People Medley.
Vivino’s “If I Can’t Have You” or Watts and Blake’s “”It’s Raining Men” could have raised the dead and gotten them moving to the beat. After impressing the audience with the range and power of their voices, many of the performers also took to the dance floor, mingling enthusiastically with the guests.
At one point Coulter gave the audience a brief history of Studio 54. Opened in 1927 as the Galla Opera House, the venue eventually became CBS radio and television studio 52 until 1977 when Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager turned it into the famous Studio 54.
Coulter explained that upstairs the lights were bright, but they were much dimmer downstairs where the more louche activities took place. When he informed the audience that a woman at the previous show had told him she’d seen one of the owners stashing cash in the basement ceiling, all eyes turned upward.
“Everybody who was anybody was here,” said Coulter, adding with a sly wink, “much like tonight.” Liza Minnelli was definitely not in attendance, but if she hears about the show, she may well wish she had been.
54 Below is located at 254 West 54 Street, http://54below.com.