by Michael Bowen

In Saturday Night Fever, the musical (at the Opera House, April 8-11), Tony Gonzalez plays Tony Manero, which was John Travolta's role when Saturday Night Fever, the movie, premiered in 1977. I spoke with Gonzalez (who was born in 1980) from a Laundromat in Rapid City, S.D.

Inlander: You just graduated from Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio. What's Westerville's hottest dance club?

Gonzalez: Well, it's actually in Columbus. It's called Axis... two or three floors, all different kinds of music -- techno, pop -- and all the lights, the dancing. The age range is 20-30 on any given Saturday night.

Tony, when you strut your stuff at Axis, what kind of jive talkin' do you lay down on all the pretty dancers?

[laughs] You might say, "How ya doin'?" or "What's up?" It's a college crowd, so maybe, "Do you have class in the morning?" [pause] I'm trying to think of what else... As far as the lingo goes, I guess, it's just "Hi, my name's Tony." Your asking the question makes me realize that I have no good pickup lines.

Yeah, good luck with that. Here in Spokane, we're still wearing the white belts and the polyester. What's it like to perform in front of audiences for whom disco hasn't yet gone out of style?

We're in Rapid City right now, and they went crazy last night. They had such a good time. And of course when your audience has a good time, you have a good time onstage.

Is it true that the producers insisted that you get chest hair implants?

[laughs] No, that's live, all live. You know there's this great cartoon for our show -- I can't remember the city right now, but it was on the cover of their entertainment or weekend section -- and it was just from the mid-stomach, the mid-ab, up to the Adam's apple, and it was some guy's chest, with tons of hair, and all the chains hanging off, and the white suit, and the blue lapels, and it was the funniest thing. I cut it out and sent it to my parents.

Those shirt lapels are awfully big. When you put on a spin move, ever get stung in the eye by one of those things?

There have been times when my lapel is sticking up and I don't know it until I turn my head and it knocks into my face, so I'm pretty sure I'm constantly fixing that onstage.

In the movie, Tony's famous outburst at his father goes, "Would you just watch the hair? I work a long time on my hair, and you hit it." Tell me you haven't said exactly that to some stagehand who bumped into you right before you went on.

One of my buddies in the cast, about a week ago, he turned to me after I bumped into him, and he said it -- quoting the movie -- and I just cracked up.

As you know, we're living in a world of fools, and they're breakin' us down, when they should all just let us be. How deep is your love, Tony? How deep is your love?

It's deep, it's deep. And to be doing this every night -- we've been doing this tour since June -- it's a deep thing, Michael.

If there is a significant other in your life right now...

There isn't, unfortunately. But if there's anybody available in Spokane, you know, I'm more than happy...

For just three or four nights? That's not deep. That's superficial.

To prepare for the role back in '77, Travolta danced three hours a day, ran two miles every day and lost 20 pounds. Since then, he's eaten a few cheeseburgers. Are you getting in enough gym time, Tony? Are you sweatin' it to the oldies?

I am, as much as possible. The unfortunate thing is, we spend so much time on the bus, which doesn't help matters at all -- and a lot of time at McDonald's, which also doesn't help. Doing the show every night is a good workout in itself. But you know, it adds up. It hurts in the morning.

Do you get a masseuse?

I wish. Anyone in Spokane who wants to come and massage the cast, they are more than welcome. We actually do have a massage therapist who meets up with us maybe once a month.

So do you come off the stage just drenched in sweat?

Very much so. Every time we get a new dresser, I have to say, 'I'm sorry you have to touch my costumes, but they're gonna be kinda wet."

The actual white suit from the movie came with shirts that button in the crotch, so they wouldn't come untucked during all that dancing. Do you have one like that for the show?

Yeah, it's probably not exactly like John's, but I really need that, because it's not easy to keep it in there, you know?

Oh, I know all about that. Are you someone who splashes on plenty of Brut cologne?

Not Brut, by no means. Onstage, every time I pick it up, I honestly laugh on the inside, because I think, "I would never wear this scent in my life."

The movie has this wonderful sequence with Travolta all the way down to his skivvies, getting ready, putting on the shirt, all the jewelry -- do you have anything like that in the show? Or do you have a little get-into-the-disco-suit routine in the dressing room?

Well, fortunately, because we're visiting McDonald's so much, we don't do that in the show. But yeah, that happens backstage. Sometimes, when I'm doing my hair in the mirror, with my hair dryer and my brush, it's funny to think about.

Rumor has it Michael Flatley is doing a remake, only it's set at a Brooklyn pub with Tony O'Mangan winning an Irish line dancing competition with his new lassie, Colleen. Would your agent let you audition for the lead?

I don't have an agent, which is another issue we could talk about.

So you're saying I have to set you up with masseuse, a couple of one-night stands, and an agent. ...

Hey, tit for tat here -- we help each other out.

Trivia time: Name John Travolta's five older siblings.

I have no clue.

OK, try this one: Which one lives in the Spokane area? And which one of his nieces is a Spokane radio personality?

I have no idea.

And you say you've done all your Travolta research. [For the record, the answers are a) Joey, Ellen, Ann, Margaret and Sam; b) Ellen; and c) Molly Allen of KXLY.]

I've done interviews where people ask, "Now, has John Travolta come to see the show?" And I just laugh and say, "No, I don't see that happening anytime soon." So basically what you're telling me is that I have a lot of pressure coming down on me.

Yep. Around here, we're used to real Travoltas.

Publication date: 04/01/04

Newport Rodeo & Festival @ Newport Rodeo Grounds

Fri., June 25, 1-9 p.m. and Sat., June 26, 12-9 p.m.
  • or

About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.