Native Australian cabaret singer David Campbell plays the lead in one of Stephen Sondheim's earliest works, the musical Saturday Night, which gets its New York premiere Feb. 14 at NY's Second Stage, more than four decades after it was written. Previews started Jan. 21 for a run through March 26. (An intended first preview on Jan. 20 was changed at the last minute to a final dress rehearsal).
Campbell's costars will include 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 Andrea Burns, 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) will direct and choreograph. Rob Fisher will be the musical director for Saturday Night, and original Jonathan Tunick orchestrations will be used for the show.
Castmember Campbell has sung at Joe's Pub and at such special events as a Symphony Space anniversary symposium for South Pacific. Further casting is expected in the next few weeks, according to Second Stage marketing associate, David Henderson.
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