“I guess the man means more than the means”
For a still-living composer, Stephen Sondheim’s back catalogue has been mercilessly picked over and bastardised for many a cabaret and compilation show – a consequence perhaps of the chequered history of many of his shows as well as his increasing and enduring popularity over time. So even though a show like Saturday Night, written in 1954 yet not receiving its first production until 1997, remains something of an obscurity, many of its songs have become familiar due to inclusion elsewhere.
It would have been Sondheim’s debut production and in many ways, one can see the rawness of this composer. For one, there’s a gentleness to it, a romantic sense of fun that is very much atypical for a man much better known for his cynical view on the world. And for another, there’s a more direct tunefulness, the music lacking the complexity that has characterised his oeuvre but in all honesty, not much the worse for it.
Anna Francolini and Sam Newman are a delight on ‘So Many People’, likewise Tracie Bennett and Mark Haddigan on ‘I Remember That’, Newman also shines on ‘Class’ and James Millard ‘s ‘Exhibit A’ in another strong track. Some of the accents may be a little shaky (the show is set in Brooklyn) and there’s little sense of the narrative coming through unaided by a synopsis.
But given that it already feels like a compilation album due to the familiarity Sondheim fans will have with some or indeed many of the songs, that doesn’t necessarily work against it.