Saturday Night

Book by Julius J Epstein, based on Front Porch in Flatbush by Julius J Epstein and Philip G Epstein; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Jermyn Street Theatre

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Saturday Night is a Sondheim work that had its world premiere in London in the late 1990s despite being written some 45 years earlier.

Primavera's new production of the piece is its first UK revival and the first time the revised book and score, as amended for its Chicago and off-Broadway productions, have been seen professionally in the UK.

The story is more approachable than one might expect from Sondheim and the pre-Wall Street Crash setting means some of the witty lyrics benefit from a contemporary ring.

Helena Blackman, who must by now be fed up of being always described as 'runner-up in the BBC's search for a Maria' plays Helen, whose down-to-earth stance clashes with that of dreamer Gene, with whom she falls in love.

Ms Blackman does not always seem comfortable in her role but her singing can be first class and as good as anything presented on some of the bigger near-by stages.

David Ricardo-Pearce's Gene was less well sung and also less engaging but grew on me, as did Lloyd Gorman's Artie, but sparkle only came from Charlie Cameron - she provided a fizz which was noticeable by its absence in key numbers such as Exhibit A which failed to hit its comic mark.

Saturday Night is staged 'à la John Doyle' with most of the actors playing at least one instrument. Of the various productions I have seen executed in this style this is the least successful insofar as getting the actors to their instruments on cue occasionally seemed contrived.

Where young director Tom Littler's strengths lie was more apparent where all the cast had to be fitted onto the diminutive stage. I dare say assisting Trevor Nunn on A Little Night Music at the not-quite-as-small Menier came in handy; assisted by the choreography of Tim Jackson, he manages to make a virtue of the small space for a good deal of the time.

Tom Attwood as MD has got some wonderful sounds from this talented and energetic group of actor musicians, especially in the full ensemble pieces. David Osmond on piano was musically one of the backbones even though this meant performing one of the smaller acting roles in which he acquitted himself well. The inclusion of flute, courtesy of Harry Waller, was a welcome surprise though all fellow wind instruments came into their own in providing a convincing slightly seedy sax, speak-easy feel.

By definition this is a piece that requires a cast of young actors who may not always be able to maintain the Brooklyn accent or get every laugh out of the book and lyrics, but this will come; some of the under-powered singing was rectified in the second act which suggests a growth of confidence in front of the first night audience.

I sense this show will keep getting better as the cast grow into it and hope it will have a life after its short run at Jermyn Street.

"Saturday Night" is at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 14th March 2009

Sandra Giorgetti has written an article about the show to accompany this review

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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