Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A Sondheim Triptych: Saturday Night ***

A Sondheim Triptych
Saturday Night
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Julius J Epstein, produced by Magnormos and Melbourne Recital Centre
Melbourne Recital Centre, Mondays Sept 20, Sept 27, Oct 4, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***

Saturday Night was on Monday night. Confused? Stephen Sondheim’s first professional musical, written in 1955 but not staged until 1997, is called Saturday Night. As a celebration of this music theatre legend’s 80th birthday, Magnormos is staging three of Sondheim’s less frequently performed shows on three consecutive Mondays. Clearer?

Saturday Night, directed by Terence O’Connell, is a concert performance rather than a fully-fledged production. This means that, because rehearsal time and budget are limited, there is no set, no orchestra and the singers carry beautifully bound scripts to which they refer occasionally.

This does not detract from the musical quality. Sondheim’s music is capably played by musical director, Vicki Jacobs (piano), Brett Canning (double bass) and Toby Lang (drums) with a cast of 15 performing the 22 songs with commitment and skill. Zac Tyler, as the ambitious, aspirational Gene, has a cheerful presence and a warm voice. Claire George, as his love interest, Helen, is a highlight with her bright, clear soprano and engaging style.

Although Saturday Night is his earliest musical, it has signatures of Sondheim’s later, much-applauded style: cunningly wrought, funny lyrics, complex rhythms, unusual intervals and some themes shared with his successful show, Company.

The story, based on the play, Front Porch in Flatbush, occurs on consecutive Saturday nights in Brooklyn when Gene (Tyler) and his pals complain about being desperate, dateless and broke every Saturday. “When you’re alone on a Saturday night, you might as well be dead,” says Sondheim’s lyric. While the single guys moan about being alone, their only married pal sings, “She’s always there when you want her, and she’s always there when you don’t want her.”

Gene works in a low level, Wall Street job but has expensive tastes and a total lack of scruples. He convinces his hapless, trusting friends to invest on a sure thing in the stock market, but he blows their cash on his own expensive, idiotic schemes. Somehow, Gene remains their golden boy, the one who gives them hope with his crazy dreams. They forgive him everything – even selling his cousin’s car illegally.

You have missed Saturday Night, but you can see the concert versions of Merrily We Roll Along and Anyone Can Whistle on upcoming Mondays.

By Kate Herbert

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