It seems fitting that the York Theatre would choose Stephen Sondheim’s musical Saturday Night for their 100th production in their “Musicals in Mufti” Series. For the last 20 years, the company has performed pared down versions of both significant and lesser known musicals, using not much more than scripts and street clothes.
Saturday Night strikes a core of sweet nostalgia that fits comfortably into this quaint space. Based on a play by Julius Epstein, Front Porch in Flatbush, this musicalized treatment takes us to 1929 Brooklyn where four teens are hoping to score a date on…you guessed it..Saturday night. Gene (Ben Fankhauser) is the alpha dog among his pack of frisky fellows and ends up forging a romance with Helen (Margo Seibert). Of course, the romance is not without its’ complications. Gene has a brilliant idea to sell a car, which belongs to Eugene “Pinhead” Goman (Olli Haaskivi). With an investment in the Montana Chemical Corporation, his stock is sure to rise and he’ll reap the monetary rewards. Unfortunately, it is not a well executed plan, but love still prevails. Meanwhile, he and his cronies go to the movies , accompanied by Mildred (Dana Steingold), an adorable air head who steals the show with her comic spunk. Rounding out this talented ensemble is Lindsay Mendez (Celeste), and Matthew Scott (Hank), sister and brother-in-law to Gene. Both shine in the second act , when they recollect the details of their first date in the endearing “I Remember That.” Fankhauser and Seibert provide quality acting chemistry and vocally, they are both in harmonious sync. (Fankhauser recently starred in Broadway’s Newsies, Seibert was a break-out star in Broadway’s too short lived Rocky).
Saturday Night was one of Sondheim’s first musicals that he penned at the young age of twenty-three. Originally it was to be presented on Broadway in 1955, but due to the sudden death of the producer, it never transpired. Since then, it has received various mountings in London, Chicago, and in 2000, at off Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre. It lacks the edge and sophistication of his later works, and Sondheim himself has said that he is embarrassed by some of the lyrics. It still tips its’ hat to the innocence and eagerness of youth. Besides, let’s just step back for a moment and analyze this: Stephen Sondheim wrote an entire musical (both music and lyrics) at the age of 23. Most of us at that age, including myself, were working a lousy minimum wage retail job. Congratulations, Mr. Sondheim. Your youth was not wasted. Sail on!
Saturday Night runs through Nov. 16 at the York Theatre Company, 619 Lexington Ave on the corner of 54th street. For tickets and information, http://www.yorktheatre.org/