Saturday Night. Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Julius Epstein. Based on the Play “Front Porch in Flatbush” by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein. Directed by Ryan Weible. 42nd Street Moon, Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, California.
It’s 1929 Brooklyn and a tight-knit group of bachelors are bemoaning their dateless Saturday night. While most of the guys dream of scoring, one has bigger thoughts of striking it rich in the stock market. Flash forward to 1953, where a budding composer hopes to have his first Broadway show open, only to have his hopes dashed with the untimely death of his producer. Had that show, Sondheim’s Saturday Night opened, the world would have seen a preview of the genius that would blossom so clearly two years later in West Side Story. 42nd Street Moon’s Saturday Night is a delight for fans of old-fashioned boy meets girl, trouble ensues, happy-ending, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, and for Sondheim fans who may never have seen this show.
The plot is simple and fun, part screwball comedy with light romance thrown in for an appealing charm. There’s mistaken identities, petty crime, and get-rich schemes, all set in a shared apartment with a community phone. We’ve seen plenty of musicals with sad sack males (most recently Bay Area Musicals’ The Wedding Singer), and this group holds it own. The gang, Ted (Jesse Cortez), Artie (Mike Birr), Ray (Jack O’Reilly) and Dino (Nathaniel Rothrock) open the show with “Saturday Night”, their lame 7 pm attempt at rousing up a dame for that evening. When one scores, they share in the happiness of having ‘one-quarter of a girl’. You can hear in the melody and the lyrics the unmistakable Sondheim style.
The featured characters are Gene, the ambitious Wall Street runner who dreams of living large and Helen, a girl he meets at a ritzy society function. The two hit it off, unbeknownst to each other that they’re both frauds. Nikita Kurshteyn, a super capable singer, dancer and actor is right for this role. He’s got the right touch of brash bravado and recklessness that drives him to spend his friend’s money on a swanky apartment down payment, sell his uncle’s car to cover his losses and ruin their quick rich dreams. Helen, played by the equally talented Amie Shapiro, stands by her man, hoping he’ll change courses and get a job plucking chickens at her father’s business.
Bobby (Cameron La Brie), supposedly the lothario of the group, sings of his seductive charms in the charming “Exhibit A”. The ensemble is delightful, which includes the newly married wise-cracking couple Hank (Kalon Thibodeaux) and Celeste (Courtney Hatcher) and their duet on “I Remember That”.
The best foreshadowing of the Sondheim of Company and Follies is “What More Do I Need”, sung by Gene, Helen and the company. It’s the first of many Sondheim odes to New York City and has his unmistakable meter and lyrical innovations.
The show has the innocence of 30’/40’s musicals that is appealing for those looking for light theatrical relief. Bethany Deal’s costumes and Brian Watson’s scenic design are vintage 1920’s. Director Ryan Weible works his large cast with skill and precision, aided by Allison Paraiso’s choreography and Daniel Thomas’ lovely musical direction. The show was withheld from the public till 1997 when the entire score was heard for the first time. 42nd Street Moon, which has built its reputation of reviving long forgotten musicals, has a huge hit with this revival.
Performances run through April 15th, 2018 www.42ndstmoon.org 415.255.8207