‘Saturday Night’ play still relevant to modern audiences

Starting on Wednesday, the Department of Theatre Arts will show the acclaimed musical “Saturday Night” at the University of Miami’s Ring Theatre.

Being the third play of the theatre’s 2015-16 season, this Hammerstein-esque spectacle comes from the innovative mind of Stephen Sondheim, the highly acclaimed lyricist best known for his compositions in “West Side Story” and “Into the Woods,” among other projects that have entertained audiences for more than half a century.

One of Sondheim’s oldest and most obscure works, “Saturday Night” was actually meant to debut during Broadway’s 1954-55 season and was indefinitely delayed following the death of its first producer. Forty years later, an ambitious effort that was alleviated by the Stephen Sondheim Society revived the seemingly doomed musical.

“Saturday Night” had its first performances outside of Broadway and has subsequently received somewhat of a cult following despite its volatile history.

“I think it suits us really well,” director David Williams said. “It’s really a remarkable show. When you look at it, there’s some really mature writing and it’s a shame that most people don’t know about it.”

Nevertheless, the theatre group has been working tirelessly to breathe new life into Sondheim’s hidden gem, which has been described as “fetching” and “tuneful” according to the group’s official website.

“We’re finding so much joy in doing it,” Williams said. “It’s about being young, having fun and growing up, which is something that happens in every generation.”

A majority of the musical takes place in the spring of 1929, focusing heavily on a group of male New Yorkers and their collective frustration over being single. In true Roaring Twenties fashion, “Saturday Night” tells the story of how one of these chaps attempts to rise high and beyond in the city that never sleeps.

“We’re actually trying to make it feel like an old-time movie – kind of like one of those Marx Brothers films,” Williams explained. “The story’s simple and easy to follow – a pastiche based off of 1929, so it won’t have music of this century.”

“Saturday Night” sports a strongly Vaudeville-influenced score heavily inspired by the legendary theatrical producer Oscar Hammerstein II, who was also Sondheim’s mentor and father figure. More influence from Hammerstein is readily apparent in the musical’s style of production, which harkens back to the simplicity of classic Broadway shows that are often regarded as culturally omnipresent in the grand world of arts and entertainment.

Williams summed up the importance of the film by emphasizing themes of growth and leisure, both of which he says are natural parts of transitioning into the bustling world of adulthood.

“It’s something to go to in order to forget about things for a while — entertainment in the true sense of the world,” he said. “We’re pretty certain the audience will love it and will leave smiling. Theatre is important and it changes lives, so there’s definitely learning to be had here.”

Saturday Night” will be performed at the Ring Theatre until Nov. 21.