Saturday Night Review - 42nd Street Moon (Gateway Theatre)
Stephen Sondheim's "Saturday Night"
|Address:||215 Jackson Street (Bet. Battery & Front)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Saturday Night — 42 Street Moon does Sondheim
The cast of 42nd Street Moon's Saturday Night. Photos by Ben Krantz Studio
Review by Judith M. Wilson
Saturday nights were a big deal in 1920s New York. It was prime time for going out on the town with a date, spending time with buddies lamenting the lack of one or drumming up some excitement. It was also a more innocent time, and it’s a picture of American culture that Stephen Sondheim captures in Saturday Night, 42nd Street Moon’s current production at San Francisco’s Gateway Theatre.
Based on Julius and Philip Epstein’s play Front Porch in Flatbush, Saturday Night is one of Sondheim’s early creations, and it appears he lost interest in it over time. It was first slated to make its debut on Broadway in the 1954-55 season, but was put on hold after its lead producer, Lemuel Ayers, died. It was rescheduled for 1960, but that production didn’t go forward either. Sondheim had gone on to bigger, more spectacular Broadway productions, writing lyrics for shows such as Gypsy (1959) and West Side Story (1961), and Saturday Night languished, perhaps because Sondheim considered it an entry-level work that he ‘d surpassed. It had its first full staging in England, at the University of Birmingham in 1996, with Sondheim’s approval, and a major production followed at the Bridewell Theatre in Blackfriars, in London’s Off West End, in 1997. It finally had its New York premiere Off Broadway in 2000.
(l. to r.) Mike Birr as Artie, Nathaniel Rothrock as Dino, Jesse Cortez as Ted and Jack O'Reilly as Roy
Although it lacks the depth of Sondheim’s later works, Saturday Night has its own special charm, with catchy tunes and a story that’s a reflection of human nature, as it shows the missteps and loyalty that come with youth and a young man’s efforts to find his place in the world. The play opens with a group of friends who are looking for love and adventure, and it follows their experiences on several Saturday nights. Much of the action revolves around Gene, well played by Nikita Burshteyn, who longs to move up the ladder and sets his sights on Manhattan, which he believes is a world away from Brooklyn’s Flatbush. It’s not an easy climb, and things get complicated, after he crashes a ritzy New York party and meets Helen, portrayed by Amie Shapiro, who’s also pretending to be someone she’s not. They make a connection, but then rash judgment leads Gene to make some poor decisions, landing him in some very hot water. Deception, mistaken identity and redemption come into play in a relatively simple story about the consequences of risk-taking and the power of friendship.
Nikita Burshteyn (left) as Gene and Amie Shapiro as Helen
42nd Street Moon’s mission is to give lesser known works of musical theatre exposure, thus preserving their place in show business history. Saturday Night is such a show, and it features solid performances from a talented cast. Ryan Weible’s direction keeps the action flowing, despite the simplicity of the plot line, and music director Daniel Thomas makes the most of the music. Brian Watson’s scenic design creates the right mood, and the set makes the transition from a front porch to the Plaza Hotel to even the local lock-up effectively, given the small stage. Bethany Deal’s 1920s costumes capture an era when people dressed up to go out on Saturday night, and new trends in fashion turned heads. All the elements come together to create a polished production, and while it might not have been Sondheim’s favorite, Saturday Night still has merit and is worthwhile.
Courtney Hatcher (left) as Celeste and Caitlin Waite as Mildred
Saturday Night plays Wednesday through Sunday until April 15, at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. To find out more about Saturday Night, see the lineup for 42nd Street Moon’s Silver Jubilee Season and order tickets, go to www.42ndstmoon.org.
Kalon Thibodeaux (left) as Hank and Caitlin Waite as Mildred