Saturday Night 2000 Off-Broadway Revival Cast
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Saturday Night (Original New York Cast)
A few years before he burst onto Broadway with a stunning debut (as the lyricist for West Side Story), a certain young maverick was at work on his very first musical--though it would remain buried for almost a half century. Stephen Sondheim was only in his mid-20s when he wrote the music and lyrics in 1954 for Saturday Night, based on a play by Julius and Philip Epstein called Front Porch in Flatbush, a romantic comedy set in the Brooklyn of 1929. It's fascinating to detect in embryo traces of the Sondheim still to evolve: in the twists of imagery drawn from the stock market or in the rapid-fire, saucy tone that might easily fit into "Gee, Officer Krupke," as well as in the quietly yearning harmonies of the show's loveliest ballad, "So Many People." There's also a sweet innocence here (Sondheim has called it his "baby picture"), emanating from an era when being dateless on a Saturday night could be presented as one of life's major challenges. Although a few gems like "What More Do I Need?" had separately made it into circulation, the show received its very belated premiere in London, but the original 1998 cast recording that resulted left out four songs, such as "Gracious Living Fantasy," in which the Wall Street gofer hero Gene (played with guileless charm by David Campbell) imagines making it in high society. Moreover, Sondheim himself supervised the session for this recording (Nonesuch's first Sondheim cast album), made with the cast of the show's New York premiere, which was in early 2000 at Second Stage Theater. Saturday Night turns on its ensemble, which in this production is endearingly fresh and doe-eyed. Sure, it's a portrait of the artist as a very young man, but is not to be overlooked as a mere piece of juvenilia. --Thomas May
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This off-Broadway production was the NY premier and is competent, though I find some of the Brooklyn accents a bit over the top and grating. Still the music is lovely and showcases the early Sondheim, a must have for Steve fans or musical theater collectors.
P.S. I almost hesitated to give this five stars, given that other Sondheim scores are more brilliant, but this is just so beautifully produced in all facets--casting, orchestrations, instrumental playing, judicious use of short bits of dialog for context, recording sound, packaging, liner notes, full lyrics, etc.--that I just had to give it top marks.