42nd Street Moon presents charming, fun look into 1920s with ‘Saturday Night’

Ben Krantz Studio/Courtesy

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“So what can you do on a Saturday night — alone?” ask the characters in the show’s opening number.

Set in 1929, “Saturday Night” revolves around a group of bachelor friends who struggle to entertain themselves on weekend nights in their Brooklyn neighborhood. This upbeat musical presents a look into the dull moments of the Roaring ’20s. Audiences are sure to be content spending their own weekend night entertained by the catchy music and engaging story of “Saturday Night.”

The music and lyrics of “Saturday Night” were written by acclaimed composer Stephen Sondheim — winner of more Tony Awards than any other composer — and the production is based on a book by Julius J. Epstein. After originally being expected to open on Broadway in 1955, the musical’s debut was put off by the sudden death of its lead producer; it was finally produced successfully at a small theater in London in 1997, then eventually at London’s West End in 2009.

With an ensemble cast and musical numbers that could easily be choreographed to fill a large stage, “Saturday Night” has the potential to be a major Broadway theater production. Yet San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon, through director Ryan Weible, smartly keeps the play within the constraints of a small theater, bringing a closer and more intimate feel to the story. With a group of friends as the central characters, this close feel enhances the audience’s connection to the story.

The personal feel of the small stage is utilized to craft the musical numbers, which allow the cast’s immense talent to captivate the audience. The musical numbers are made even more compelling by the delightful choreography of Allison Paraiso. The choreography, never over-the-top but subtle and compelling, fits both the plot and the small stage the production works with.

This choreography shines during “Isn’t It?,” sung by Helen (Amie Shapiro) as she slow dances with Gene (Nikita Burshteyn) outside of a loud party. In this affectionate moment, the choreography gorgeously illustrates the budding relationship between the two characters. It complements the song itself, with the audience savoring each graceful motion.

Ben Krantz Studio / Courtey

Ben Krantz Studio / Courtey

Shapiro and Burshteyn exude radiant chemistry through every interaction. A significant amount of the plot is driven forward by their relationship — and Shapiro and Burshteyn are up to the task. Their rifts are just as captivating as their intimate moments, presenting a central romance that enhances the plot as a whole.

From the moment they meet, their excellently delivered, quick-witted dialogue engages audiences, representative of the dynamic they develop throughout the production. Both are trying to crash a party and hide under made-up identities, yet their connection is clear even through these obscurities. Shapiro and Burshteyn manage to use these layers to emphasize the strength of their characters’ connection, making their unique meeting scene even more fascinating.

While all these elements work out successfully in the long run, the plot takes time to find its footing. A slow opening results from the script’s roundabout way of getting to its central plot points and introducing its characters. For example, Gene’s introduction gives little indication of his importance within the production. The roughness does not last long, however, as the plot builds up and the ensemble cast settles into a natural group dynamic — the audience members feel more like they’re sitting on the main porch with the friends than just watching the show.

This production of “Saturday Night” accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: present a fun and entertaining musical while also providing a meaningful look into a group of characters who often find themselves on the outskirts of excitement — relatable no matter the time period.

“Saturday Night” runs through April 15. 

Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].