For many, New York in 1979 was a wild, out-of-control place. The city had barely survived bankruptcy, crime was at record levels and garbage was piling up on sidewalks. Nightclubs like glamorous Studio 54 and later counter-culture Mudd Club reflected that sense of anything-goes while at the same time offering themselves as a glorious refuge, a welcoming place to hide — or thrive, and even as a little piece of heaven.
That sense of fantasy, family and freedom are themes that reverberate in the world premiere of a new musical opening this week at off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater. “This Ain’t Not Disco” features music and lyrics by Stephen Trask (composer of the cult-rock phenom “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) and Peter Yanowitz and is directed by Tony Award-winner Darko Tresnjak, outgoing artistic director of Hartford Stage.
“New York City was a very dicey place which felt like it was falling apart and people were looking and longing for things that were bigger than themselves,” says New London native Trask during a recent break in previews for the show.
The Wesleyan University grad was barely a tween during the time the show is set in 1979-80. Top 40 radio was Trask’s musical world at the time and the down-and-dirty world of Manhattan was a landscape still to come. “I didn’t really appreciate, even when I was older, the extent that Studio 54 was like the gay Cotton Club,” says Trask, 51. “It was essentially a gay club, but instead of being a hidden-away, hole-in-the-wall place, it was fabulous, huge and extravagant.”
The nightclub known for its drugs, hedonism and spectacle was on 54th Street in the Broadway district of midtown Manhattan. It reflected a paradoxical combination of exclusivity and egalitarianism.