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A CurtainUp Review
By Miriam Colin
As a Sondheim enthusiast -- make that Sondheim fanatic -- I wouldn't have missed the opportunity to see his first musical. But for those unfamiliar with or less partial to Sondheim, it's a pity that what started out as a triple threat Sondheim season has trickled down to this example of a great talent in the making without a comparable example of that talent fully matured.
Ideally Saturday Night should be seen in tandem with Sondheim's latest and long-in-the-works opus, Wise Guys. That's how things were supposed to be until Wise Guys, turned into a theatrical version of vaporware -- with only New York Theater Works subscribers privvy to a short-lived, partial version. As one of those subscribers I'll have to admit that what little I saw of Wise Guys wasn't ready for prime time but I think it will get there before too many seasos pass.
Judged in its present form, as the only Sondheim show on or off Broadway, Saturday Night feels more like a revival than a new musical. (Editor's note: it was supposed to be produced in 1955 but was cancelled after the producer's death).
The director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall has done her darndest with an appealing cast, staging and choreography. It's not enough to overcome Julius J. Epstein's book which is not only weak and old-hat but weakens the entire show: A group of poor Brooklyn boys who hanker after Saturday night dates and riches by way of stock market tips. This may sound timely, a sort of pre-dot.com story but it's really more in the mode of Saturday Night Fever. All the talk about getting a date for Saturday night is only likely to increase the confusion with that show -- and I pity anyone who mistakenly ends up at the Minskoff instead of the Second Stage, since even early Sondheim and a mediocre book have that show beat by several miles.
The two leads, David Campbell and Lauren Ward, are attractive and work well together as a duo. He plays an ambitious Wall Street runner and she pretends to be a society girl but turns out to also hail from Brooklyn. I didn't find Campbell quite up to expressing his character's combination of innocence and drive. The ensemble is actually more satisfactory. Andrea Burns and Clarke Thorell are particularly good as a jaded married pair. Their rendition of "I Remember That" is a definite highlight.
The songs generally are what this is all about, from the repeated ensemble refrain "Alive and alone on a Saturday night is dead" to the nimble footed Christopher Fitzgerald's show-stopping "Exhibit A." Several of the lyrics do suggest well-known hits to come. For example, "That Kind of a Neighborhood" reminded me of West Side Story All are superbly orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick.
Is Saturday Night likely to move to Broadway so that it could be Tony eligible as a new musical? Unlikely. Should you see it? Yes, if you enjoy seeing emerging as well as fully evolved talent. Probably not if you're not a big Sondheim fan.
P.S. One point which I suppose only native Brooklynites will catch. With the exception of Clarke Thorell, the Brooklyn accents of this Brooklyn story are not even close to authentic.