Stephen Sondheim’s first musical, abandoned in 1954 after the sudden death of its producer, has been rarely performed since, but offers a rare insight into the developing talent of one of theatre’s foremost composers.
At the tail end of the Roaring Twenties, just months before the Wall Street Crash, David Ricardo-Pearce’s Gene leads a young group of friends, actor-musicians all, who throw their savings into the only stock which is not rapidly increasing in value. As Gene’s aspirational lifestyle causes him to build lie upon lie and risk the friends’ money, his burgeoning relationship with Helen, played by Helena Blackman, begins to fall apart.
The music has echoes of Gershwin and Porter, showing an aptitude for wordplay that both matches the style of the era and indicates the Sondheim that was to come. They are delivered with precision by a cast that works well together, and exudes enough charm to allow one to overlook the occasional lapse in accent from one or two of the men. Dancer Charlie Cameron, whose speakeasy-loving Florence rarely speaks, manages to steal every scene when she does so.
It is the book, adapted by Julius J Epstein from his play Front Porch in Flatbush, co-written with brother Philip, that proves the weakest part of the production. Events do not really start to get under way until well into the first act and the conclusion seems both perfunctory and out of character for all concerned.
That aside, one is left with the feeling that unlike many rarely-produced musicals, Saturday Night deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Reviewed for The Stage