Stephen Sondheim completists will get a kick out of 42nd Street Moon’s production of “Saturday Night.”
Sondheim’s first, long-lost musical, which didn’t make it to Broadway in the mid-1950s and didn’t enjoy a fully staged production until 1997, is onstage at the Gateway Theatre in a pleasant, if not awe-inspiring, show presented by the San Francisco troupe specializing in lesser-known musicals.
At one level, it’s easy to understand why “Saturday Night” hasn’t been widely produced. The 1929-set story about young Brooklyn guys looking for dates is hardly timely, as is its simplistic romantic plot involving a high-society wannabe who falls for a woman also seeking a higher station, and who steals money his friends give him to invest.
At points “Saturday Night” even feels like a poor man’s “Guys and Dolls”; that musical’s composer Frank Loesser turned down the job to write the music for this endeavor, based on Julius and Philip Epstein’s play “Front Porch in Flatbush.”
Not long after, the young Sondheim was working with Leonard Bernstein on “West Side Story.”
Sondheim’s way with words is evident in the title, opening tune of “Saturday Night,” which wittily states, “If it’s a Saturday night and you are single, you sit with a paper and fight the urge to mingle.”
It’s sung by the appealing quartet — Artie (Mike Birr), Dino (Nathaniel Rothrock), Ray (Jack O’Reilly) and Ted (Jesse Cortez) — which deftly sets the stage for antics that follow.
Their pal Gene (Nikita Burshteyn), a menial Wall Street worker who has high-society ambitions, meets Helen (Amie Shapiro), who’s initially on a similar path. In the process of wooing her, his get-rich-quick schemes lead him astray; he steals and sells his rich cousin’s fancy car as well as takes his friends’ cash.
Under direction by Ryan Weible, the cast shrieks and mugs up a storm, trying (not always succeeding) to play up the silly plot’s would-be wackiness. (The funny DC Scarpelli fares best as Gene’s hoodwinked cousin.)
Still, Burshteyn and Shapiro sell the show’s lovely ballads: “A Moment With You,” “What More Do I Need” and “So Many People,” which have found followers through the years among cabaret vocalists.
Music director Daniel Thomas on piano, Nick Di Scala on reeds and Ken Brill on keyboards provide animated accompaniment for the loving 42nd Street Moon players. They’re clearly having fun in a show Sondheim called his “baby steps.”
Presented by 42nd Street Moon
Where: Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 6 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes April 15
Tickets: $25 to $76
Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org