Broadway spectacles are typically hit-or-miss, and Sondheim’s productions are no exception. This is especially the case with “Saturday Night,” one of Sondheim’s more obscure plays that debuted in the 90s, nearly 40 years after it was written. However, in true Hammerstein fashion, “Saturday Night” offers a tremendously charismatic performance as a triumphant return to the classic style that launched Broadway into eminence.
Set in the early spring of 1929, “Saturday Night” features a stellar cast of Brooklynites who often leap about the stage with such exuberance, that at times it may seem a bit overwhelming. The musical demonstrated no hesitance when it came to capturing the audience’s attention, commencing with the play’s eponymous theme “Saturday Night,” a lively ragtime tune that introduces our main characters— a group of boys who share the frustration of being single at the height of the Roaring Twenties. Most of the tunes are incredibly catchy, culling elements from the best of Hammerstein’s productions and molding them into a vivacious Vaudeville soundtrack for an uplifting show.
Gene Gorman, unfortunately, becomes so ambitious and eager to rise up the social ladder and woo the girl of his dreams that he loses his wits and invests his friends’ money in a high-class apartment in New York, which eventually lands him in trouble with the stock market. Much of Gene’s turbulent emotions are epitomized in subsequent musical numbers including “So Many People” and “What More Do I Need?”.
Other characters in the musical are mainly portrayed as side characters that are often used for comic relief, even though they, much like Gene, significantly mature by the end of the play by overcoming many of their shortcomings. While much of the comedy was effective in the sense that it brought about plenty of laughs without being too obnoxious, there were a few moments when the jokes totally fell flat, as was the case in “In the Movies,” a genuinely extraneous musical number in which certain characters began, as one can imagine, singing about particular films, which seemed very irrelevant to the overall meaning of the production.
As a whole, the musical mainly chronicles Gene’s growth by highlighting his departure from the seemingly puerile phase of impulsive girl-chasing, but does so through pure wit rather than overbearing melodrama. Part of the musical’s charm is that it doesn’t even appear to take itself too seriously. In true pastiche fashion, “Saturday Night” mimics the typical buoyancy of most Broadway productions by portraying each character as highly exaggerated caricatures of young men and women from the 1920s.
The musical also scores high on production by making full use of the Ring Theatre’s small stage, accompanied by wonderfully designed sets, wardrobes and props that nicely compliment the story’s setting and era. The stage, which could have easily been a pesky obstacle for such a large cast of characters, enabled a greater amount of focus on the characters while allowing enough creative freedom for each actor to express as much energy as they want.
“Saturday Night” proves to be a well-crafted and welcoming experience for novice and veteran playgoers alike, offering a whimsical production accompanied by a tremendously catchy soundtrack that is sure to make audience members feel as though that, much like Gene Gorman, they definitely have plenty of room for growth and excitement.
The musical will continue playing at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre until Nov. 21. Tickets can be purchased online at as.miami.edu/ringtheatre/.
Overall score: 4.5/5