Sondheim's Saturday Night Opens at Second Stage Feb. 17

News   Sondheim's Saturday Night Opens at Second Stage Feb. 17 After a couple of false starts, Saturday Night will indeed open live from New York, Feb. 17. Native Australian cabaret singer David Campbell plays the lead in the musical, which gets its New York premiere more than four decades after it was written. Campbell's costars include Burns, Lauren Ward (1776, Violet) and Natascia A. Diaz (a Chicago Jeff Award winner for her supporting role in a recent touring production of West Side Story). Other performers include Donald Corren, Christopher Fitzgerald, Kirk McDonald, Michael Pemberton, Joey Sorge, Clarke Thorell, Rachel Ulanet, Frank Vlastnik, Michael Benjamin Washington, David A. White and Greg Zola. Designing the show will be Derek McLane (set), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Donald Holder (lighting) and Scott Lehrer (sound).
The company of Saturday Night.
The company of Saturday Night. (Photo by Photo by Joan Marcus)

After a couple of false starts, Saturday Night will indeed open live from New York, Feb. 17. Native Australian cabaret singer David Campbell plays the lead in the musical, which gets its New York premiere more than four decades after it was written. Campbell's costars include Burns, Lauren Ward (1776, Violet) and Natascia A. Diaz (a Chicago Jeff Award winner for her supporting role in a recent touring production of West Side Story). Other performers include Donald Corren, Christopher Fitzgerald, Kirk McDonald, Michael Pemberton, Joey Sorge, Clarke Thorell, Rachel Ulanet, Frank Vlastnik, Michael Benjamin Washington, David A. White and Greg Zola. Designing the show will be Derek McLane (set), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Donald Holder (lighting) and Scott Lehrer (sound).

Kathleen Marshall (Encores!' Babes in Arms) directs and choreographs. Rob Fisher is the musical director for Saturday Night, and original Jonathan Tunick orchestrations are being used for the show.

The first production of this early Stephen Sondheim work was supposed to debut Feb. 14 at Second Stage Theatre, but the opening date was changed to accommodate further cutting and shaping by director Marshall.

According to production spokesperson Richard Kornberg, cast-member Andrea Burns lost her voice in late January, leading the production to cancel a performance (Jan. 21) and utilize her understudy, Lisa Datz, for the rest of that week. The week after Burns' Jan. 30 return, director Marshall realized she wanted to shape and trim the show (it's been cut down to its current 2 hours, 20 minutes) and would require a couple more preview nights before the premiere. Performances for Saturday Night began Jan. 21 for a run through March 26. Ticket sales are "doing very well," according to spokesperson Kornberg (reached Feb. 15).

Castmember Campbell has sung at Joe's Pub and at such special events as a Symphony Space anniversary symposium for South Pacific. Speaking of singing, several members of the cast will get together and sing a very different kind of music -- rock and folk -- for one evening only at Second Stage, Monday, March 6 (a dark night for Saturday Night) . It seems Campbell, Corren, Diaz, Thorell, Pemberton, et. al., would, during rehearsals, hang out in the dressing rooms playing guitars and singing together. This worked out so well, they decided to make an evening of it. Tickets for "Monday Night Live" are $10 and available at (212) 246-4422. *

Written in 1954, Saturday Night was meant to be Sondheim's initial foray on Broadway, and it predates West Side Story, the show that first brought him international acclaim.

Saturday Night was not staged for many years, even though backers had committed to the project. This is because tragedy struck before the show could open: Sondheim's friend and producer, Lemuel Ayers, died suddenly of leukemia in 1955, and the show was shelved for 42 years. Sondheim refused to allow the show to be produced and it wasn't, until it received its London premiere in 1997 at the Bridewell Theatre.

Historically, Saturday Night was the audition piece that Sondheim used when he sought work with Leonard Bernstein on a stage adaptation of James M. Cain's "Serenade." Bernstein left that project, however, and "Serenade" became a film instead. By then, Sondheim was positioned to exploit the need for a lyricist when he later learned that Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins were looking to adapt Romeo and Juliet, the show that became West Side Story.

"It's a very youthful musical comedy type score with traces of what was to come from Sondheim, " said publicist Jim Byk. "There are traces of the dissonances and tricky word play that would later become evident when he came into his own with Company in 1970." The show, which has a book by Julius J. Epstein, tells of a young man in the late 1920s who thinks fame and fortune await across the Brooklyn Bridge. He discovers, however, that real riches lie closer to home.

As reported earlier on Playbill On-Line, a surprising number of songs from Saturday Night have surfaced on Sondheim compilation recordings. Songs include "What More Do I Need," "Isn't It?" and the title song, all of which can be heard on the "A Stephen Sondheim Evening" recording. "Love's a Bond," "All for You," and "In the Movies" can be heard on the "Unsung Sondheim" CD. "So Many People" can be heard on the 1973 "Sondheim" compilation and in the cast album for the Off-Broadway show Marry Me a Little, which also includes "A Moment With You."

The U.S. premiere of Saturday Night was presented by the Pegasus Players, which have a reputation for bringing new glory to lesser-known Sondheim shows (The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Anyone Can Whistle, Assassins, and Passion). The Chicago production ran this summer and was extended by popular demand.

The original cast recording for Saturday Night was released in 1998 on First Night (UK) and in the US release on RCA.

For further information on Stephen Sondheim, visit sondheim.com or read Meryle Secrest's biography, "Stephen Sondheim."

--By Robert Simonson
and David Lefkowitz