Signature Theatre treated audiences to a fine concert production of the seldom performed Stephen Sondheim musical, Saturday Night, this past weekend.
Based on the play Front Porch in Flatbush by Julius and Philip Epstein (best known for their screenplay for the film Casablanca), Saturday Night is the story of a group of friends living in Brooklyn, New York that simply want to go out and have fun on Saturday Night, and for the unmarried friends in the group in particular, preferably with a date. One of the single guys, Gene Gorman (charmingly played by Geoff Packard) is seeking a quick fortune on late 1920’s Wall Street and finds both trouble and a love interest, Helen (the delightful Susan Derry) along the way, while getting the whole gang involved in his schemes. The show’s book (by Julius Epstein), a bit lightweight and lacking in plot, is reminiscent of films from the forties and fifties featuring young adults in search of love, money and happiness.
Stephen Sondheim refers to Saturday Night as his own “baby pictures. While his score for Saturday Night is obviously not as mature and sophisticated as the legendary scores for most of his later works, there is much to like and hum from Saturday Night. There are even some real gems in the form of the title song, “Exhibit A,” sung with gusto by scene-stealing William Beech as Bobby, and “What More Do I Need,” sung by the entire winning ensemble. There are glimpses in Saturday Night of Sondheim’s emerging musical style and his brilliant lyric writing. Face it, even a “baby” Stephen Sondheim score will always stand tall among other musical theater.
The Signature ensemble (including Packard, Derry, and a number of Signature favorites like Sam Ludwig, Bayla Whitten, Eleasha Gamble and real life couple, Evan Casey and Tracey Lynn Olivera, playing married couple Hank and Celeste), as expected, all shine triumphantly with the fun material. Although the performance was a concert performance, director Matthew Gardiner added much movement and choreography to the performance to make it feel closer to a fully staged performance. The orchestra under the strong direction of Jon Kalbfleisch sounded wonderful. Signature Theater has made a strong case for making Saturday Night a more regularly performed musical from the treasured Stephen Sondheim catalogue. Maybe we will see a fully staged performance of the show sooner as a result of this excellent concert staging.
Saturday Night was a limited run performance at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets to other Signature productions, call the box office at (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.