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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Saturday Night
Jermyn Street Theatre, then Arts Theatre     Spring 2009

This slight but amiable little musical would have been Stephen Sondheim's first Broadway show had financing not fallen through in 1954. So it stayed on the shelf until recently, and this is the first London production of a revised version.

With a book by Julius J. Epstein, based on an earlier play by Epstein and his brother Philip (the brothers best known for their screenplay for Casablanca), Saturday Night is the cautionary tale of a 1920s Brooklyn lad who is determined to achieve the rich, glamorous life.

Minor peccadilloes like gatecrashing posh parties give way to financial fraud and betrayal of his friends before he comes to his senses. His tale is set against the backdrop of other Brooklynites whose highest ambition is a date for Saturday night.

There are two potential audiences for this show - on the one hand, Sondheim fanatics and other theatrical archaeologists hoping for a peep at the master's early work; and on the other, those just looking for a mildly pleasant couple of hours' entertainment.

The first group are likely to be disappointed. Sondheim evidently hadn't found his musical voice yet, and you won't hear any hints of later melodies or arrangements in the generally forgettable score.

The lyrics are a little more Sondheim-ish, betraying a clever young writer very much under the influence of Cole Porter, with rhymes like lonesome- phone some/girl, sex - Francis X/Bushman and (a Brooklyn accent helps here) picture - hit you.

'I Remember That' is a pleasant song in the vein of Lerner and Loewe's 'I Remember It Well,' and 'What More Do I Need?' collects gritty urban imagery in a way Sondheim would do better in Company's 'Another Hundred People'.

But for the most part the songs are generic and unmemorable, and the book skates so lightly over the ethical questions it raises that the ending plays almost like a parody of wrap-it-up-quickly plot contrivances. Still, if you don't demand a lot, that second audience I mentioned can find this a painless way to pass an evening.

Director Tom Littler has adopted the Watermill Theatre practice of casting actors who play instruments, so they double as the onstage band, accompanying themselves and each other in character.

This suggests a not-taking-itself-too-seriously air that, along with the general youth of the cast, the broad and simple characterisations and the rudimentary staging and choreography, gives the show the not-unpleasant feel of a student production.

David Ricardo-Pearce and Helena Blackman as the central couple and Joanna Hickman as the most level-headed of their friends do a nice job and give the impression that, with stronger direction, they could rise above the nice-enough level of this very fringe-feeling fringe show.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Saturday Night - Jermyn Street and Arts Theatres 2009