STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S FIRST MUSICAL ‘SATURDAY NIGHT’ FINALLY COMES TO A BAY AREA STAGE.
42ND STREET MOON 25TH SEASON BRINGS THE CHARM AND BABY PICTURES OF SONDHEIM’S FUTURE WORKS WITH A TALENTED CAST AND A CHARMING MUSICAL
The 1929 Flatbush hood in New York comes to 42nd Street Moon players this spring with a rarely produced musical. Stephen Sondheim’s and Julius J. Epstein's early musical SATURDAY NIGHT is now on stage at the Gateway stage only through April 15th. Sondheim was just 23 when he wrote SATURDAY NIGHT. The musical has an interesting history taking its time to get to Broadway, it is not a musical that has seen many productions. In 1955, the adaptation of Epstein's play "Front Porch in Flatbush" co-written with twin brother Philip G. Epstein, who also wrote "Casablanca," was to have been the composer-lyricist Sondheim's first Broadway musical. But after producer Lemuel Ayers' tragic death canceled the production, "SATURDAY NIGHT" went dark until the 90’s.
Sondheim told the “The New York Times” that he didn’t want to do a rewrite “I don’t have any emotional reaction to Saturday Night at all — except fondness. It’s not bad stuff for a 23-year-old. There are some things that embarrass me so much in the lyrics — the missed accents, the obvious jokes. But I decided, leave it. It’s my baby pictures. You don’t touch up a baby picture — you’re a baby!". It’s first US premiere was not until 1999, and its New York off-Broadway premiere in 2000.
Executive director of 42nd Street Moon, Daren A.C. Carollo, says “this is the Bay Area professional premiere of Sondheim's SATURDAY NIGHT. We’re excited for you to see the early development of musical theatre genius.” You can hear in the lyrics of these mostly charming songs that ring so many references to Sondheim’s early influences. The opening number “Saturday Night” features most of the 15 member sizzling cast. Director Ryan Weible a true Sondheim fanboy brings his clever charm to stage this musical. Weible says “I feel like we have certain expectations of what musical theatre is. Everything is bright and happy and shiny, wrapped up in pretty little bows with an incredible, cathartic resolution.” “I love that Sondheim shows us the darker side of musical theatre, which goes against those who don’t want to think and only want to be entertained. I love that his work is polarizing.”
The story is simple and fast moving, part Marx Brothers and “Wall Street,” it has light romance thrown in with classic Broadway boy meets girl. Spanning three consecutive Saturdays in the spring of 1929, the plot follows ambitious Wall Street runner Gene Gorman played by the flawless Nikita Burshteyn. His first solo is a show stopper “Class” sang and danced with the full company, it sets up the fun caper and proves Burshteyn’s marvelous voice. Gene’s Flatbush bachelors always looking for a Saturday night date, include the exceptional Mike Birr as Arite, the dapper, skilled Jesse Cortez as Ted, the lanky talented Jack O’Reilly as Ray who always paid the bills. The fun crazy Cameron La Brie as dapper Bobbie who has a solo “Exhibit A” that he shines in. The big shots, date seeking boys establish their priorities in the winning title number: “Saturday Night” they sing "I like the Sunday Times all right--but not in bed / Alive and alone on a Saturday night is dead.”
Married pair Celeste played by the ideal Courtney Hatcher and Hank played by the likeable Kalon Thibodeaux complicate the dating equation by introducing Mildred played by the comical sweet Caitlin Waite to the lascivious dateless boys. More successful at the Wall Street con is the dashing Gene, his upper-crust aspirations driving Epstein's old-fashioned boys-and-girls-together scenario. After crashing a Plaza Hotel party, Gene meets the pragmatic heroine, Helen, played by the marvelous Amie Shapiro; her slight accent disguising her own Brooklyn origins. Shapiro, stands by her man, hoping he’ll change courses and get a job plucking chickens at her father’s business. Burshteyn and Shapiro are superb in the song “So Many People” well choreographed by Allison Paraiso-Sillicani with assistance from dance captain Courtney Hatcher.
Burshteyn is dashing in the song and dance “A Moment with You” along with DC Scarpelli and the elegant Shapiro. Director Weible keeps the cast in NY flatbush form, along with Bethany Deal’s outstanding costumes. For all the boys a brown and tan look in colorful bow ties, plaid vests, and knee-high argyles and wonderful loafers and perfect shoes. Gene’s tales are a highlight along with his white gloves and cane. The women are classy late 20’s flappers with bright hats and the perfect heels. The memorable Alison Quin as misdirected Detective Clune, and the wonderful Katherine Cooper as Florence bring Bethany Deal’s wonderful costumes alive.
The singing and music is pleasing and under music director Daniel Thomas and his three member on stage band include; on piano, Nick Di Scala, on reeds, Nick Di Scala and Ken Brill on keyboard. The three make the sound fill the Gateway Theatre. Other stand out actors include the entertaining DC Scarpelli, who is one of the best character players in the Bay Area, captures three featured roles, each one he creates a rich backstory the best beng Pinhead along with Crooner and Mr Fletcher. Also busy in the plot are Nathaniel Rothrock as Dino, the keen John Brown as the head cop. Further synopsis would only evoke dizziness but you could call this story “Wall Street” the musical.
It does take place on the dawn of the Great Depression as these boys spend and move money that will be all lost. Amid complications blending screwball and sentiment, Gene abandons his hollow ambitions by evening's end. Epstein's solid book motivates Sondheim's songs are uniformly charming, their wholehearted sound anticipating the future mastery of of his future works. This certainly describes the Act 1 closer, "One Wonderful Day," with its initial lift of Leonard Bernstein's "Christopher Street" era from "Wonderful Town.”. Director Weible and, musical director Thomas bring this caper the rich fun and some loyal young friends all pitching in for that happy ending and Broadway smile.
The craft team including Brian Watson's scenic design and Weible’s and Wesley Rou's light design capture the Flatbush hood and feel of the era. Watson’s set is busy and cluttered for the small Gateway stage but works well as the cast moves the set pieces to create a cafe, police station and the boys’ apartment. Watson also includes the Brooklyn Bridge set in the backdrop that is well crafted. Stage manager Kris Vecere keeps the cast busy with scene changers and the many company entrances for all sides of the stage.
42nd Street Moon has built its class and devoted fan base by reviving long forgotten musicals, and SATURDAY NIGHT furthers that commitment to Bay Area audiences. Next up at their Silver Jubilee Season is ME AND MY GIRL that opens May 2nd at their Gateway Stage. In the meantime make your springtime visit to 42nd Moon and see the gang in Flatbush, the company is full of energy and Sondheim’s baby pictures that set up his amazing future will charm you.
42nd Street Moon Presents
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
Music Director Daniel Thomas
Must Close April 15th
215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, California.
Running time 2 hours and one intermission
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio
*Interview with Director Ryan Weibley courtesy of DAVID JOHN CHÁVEZ Bay Area Plays
Songs from the original cast recording
"IN THE MOVIES" - with the male cast
Banner song "SATURDAY NIGHT" - with full company Original NY Cast