Catch the fever

Jacob Tischler, star of Walnut Street Theatre’s Saturday Night Fever, is a completely different person when he plays John Travolta’s iconic character.

It’s showtime: Saturday Night Fever will be on stage at the Walnut Street Theatre through July 16. PHOTO: MARK GARVIN

By Rita Charleston

John Travolta portrayed him on film in 1977, and now Jacob Tischler, a self-professed introvert from Vermont, is playing the flashy disco king Tony Manero in the Walnut Street Theatre production of Saturday Night Fever.

The musical, featuring classic hits from the Bee Gees such as Stayin’ Alive, Jive Talking, Night Fever, How Deep Is Your Love and many others, runs through July 16.

The story deals with Tony Manero, a young man with a dead-end job but an extraordinary ability to dance. One day, he meets Stephanie, who also dreams of a world beyond Brooklyn. They decide to train together for a dance competition and their lives begin to change forever.

Tischler’s own life began to change when he was just 4 years old and saw the circus.

“As soon as I saw it, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. And so I did. When I was about 15, I joined Circus Smirkus, America’s only traveling youth circus. I was a clown, juggler and acrobat, and I had a ball.”

The experience heightened Tischler’s desire to go further and eventually become a full-time performer, and after high school he went on to study acting at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Actually, Tischler’s first “acting job” was as Harold Hill in an eighth-grade production of The Music Man.

“At a very early age, I realized socializing was difficult for me,” he explains. “But once I was up on stage, all that self-doubt melted away. I always had a difficult time relating to my peers, but on stage I was a different person.”

And that is why, he continues, he can play Tony Manero so convincingly.

“When I first auditioned for the role, I looked around and everybody I saw was taller than me, darker than me, handsomer than me. And across the board, a better dancer than me.”

So Tischler took a deep breath and, deciding he couldn’t compete, simply decided to bring out the best he had in him. And it worked.

“I’m a very different person on stage,” he insists. “I am Tony. My self-doubts and need to apologize melt away, and I’m free to become the extrovert that doesn’t exist in real life. After all, I am an actor and this is my job. It’s also my first lead in a musical.”

And the very best part of realizing his dreams?

“Selfishly, for me, it’s realizing my potential. I’ve never been in a leading role before so it’s nice to have this opportunity, and I do feel I’m excelling in it. I can’t tell you how wonderful that is.” ••

Tickets range from $20 to $95. For times and ticket information, call 215–574–3550 or visit walnutstreettheatre.org