Theater & art

‘Roller Disco: The Musical’ is gloriously silly

Ahmad Maksoud as Johnny Max is the top skater on the boardwalk and an Olympics hopeful.
Ahmad Maksoud as Johnny Max is the top skater on the boardwalk and an Olympics hopeful.

CAMBRIDGE — It’s not easy to parody a parody — and movies don’t get much more parodic than the 1979 film “Roller Boogie.” Starring Linda Blair and Jim Bray, and set in Venice Beach, Calif., “Roller Boogie” drew on the 1960s beach party movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello while echoing the more contemporary “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease.”

It boasted endearingly awful dialogue and parents who weren’t as hip as Howard and Marion Cunningham on “Happy Days.” But “Roller Disco: The Musical,” playing Wednesdays and Thursdays at Oberon through August, proves that nothing succeeds like excess.

The “Roller Boogie” names have been changed, but the poor-boy-and-rich-girl-team-up-to-save-the-roller-disco plot is intact. Debbie Sinclair (Jacqui Grilli) is the only daughter of one of the wealthiest attorneys in Bel Air, and the proud owner of a $450,000 Rolls Royce Excalibur convertible. Johnny Max (Ahmad Maksoud) is the top skater on the boardwalk and a 1980 Summer Olympics hopeful. (Roller skating, we’re told, was an Olympic event even in ancient Greece.) Debbie is also a musical prodigy flutist (you know she’s a prodigy because she never has to practice) whose parents, Rodney (Kenneth Miller) and Virginia (Mariah MacFarlane), want to send her to Juilliard. She must think she’s a roller-skating prodigy as well, because she’s decided she’s going to win the Big Boogie contest at Blocker’s Skate Palace after a mere three days of preparation. To that end, she hires Johnny to be her coach. For his part, Johnny has to get her up to speed, make her fall in love with him, and foil the real estate thugs who’re trying to force Blocker Mahoney (Kevin B. McGlynn) to sell them the Skate Palace so they can build a shopping mall.


Director and choreographer Jen Wineman clearly adores all this nonsense, since she’s replicated it in loving detail at Oberon. Grilli sports the same turquoise hot pants outfit Blair wears at the beginning of “Roller Boogie,” and she copies Blair’s hairstyle. Maksoud boasts Bray’s afro and tube socks plus a shirt with “Max” in glittery letters across the chest. Marissa Rae Roberts is Debbie’s dumb blonde BFF; Mark Mauriello is Debbie’s lecherous (and in this version, gay) would-be boyfriend. Kenard Jackson doubles as the Sinclairs’ black maid and as Rad, who saves the roller rink by catching the bad guys’ incriminating conversation on his tape recorder.

And if “Roller Boogie” was low-budget, “Roller Disco” is no-budget. Everyone is on skates throughout, and if Oberon’s floor — where most of the action takes place — isn’t big enough to accommodate the double axels and triple lutzes hyped in the two-hour show’s publicity, you won’t care when you see the Village People-style production number that closes out the first act. The original musical numbers are functional; the accomplished cast members act and sing as well as they skate. “Roller Disco” is gloriously silly, and gloriously funny. You don’t even have to have seen “Roller Boogie” to love it.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at