2010 marks Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday and Magnormos are celebrating with a unique presentation. Three rarely performed Sondheim musicals will be presented three Mondays in a row at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

First off the blocks is Saturday Night, a unique show in the Sondheim canon in that it was the first he wrote music and lyrics for but was one of the most recent to be premiered. Written in the mid 1950s, the opening was delayed after the Broadway producer passed away. Saturday Night opened at London’s Bridewell Theatre in 1997. An off-Broadway production in 2000 featured Australia’s David Campbell in the lead role of Gene. This production was recorded for release on cd.
Prolific music theatre director Terence O’Connell is helming the concert performance of Saturday Night. I caught up with O’Connell between rehearsals for a quick chat about the show and the cast.
Being the Australian professional premiere means that few, if any, of the audience will have seen the show on stage before. That includes O’Connell, but he has been quick to embrace the show. “It has a very simple story like a 1930s movie plot. It doesn’t have complications. Boy and girl meet and dream of life in Manhattan.”                                                                                         
                                                                                        Sam Ludeman in Once We Lived Here
So who will play that boy and girl? O’Connell is excited to be showcasing two relative newcomers. In 2009, Zac Tyler played Guido in the musical Nine . O’Connell directed the production for LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. O’Connell first came across Claire George when directing Into the Woods for BAPA. He cast her as a showgirl in TPC’s Crazy for You (pictured). George also recently featured as one of Peter Allen’s three back up singers in TPC’s The Boy from Oz. This could definitely be the start of something big for these performers – in 2005 O’Connell showcased Lucy Durack and Amanda Harrison in TPC’s Oklahoma! and look where they ended up.
O’Connell is full of praise for his talented young cast. Others he has worked with before include Chris Durling, Sam Ludeman and Matt McFarlane (Damn Yankees), Casey Gould (Crazy for You) and newcomer Montana Perrin, who played Dainty June in a production of Gypsy that O’Connell directed for BAPA.
I asked whether the cast will carry and use scripts, as stated in the press notes, or whether some of them have memorized the material. O’Connell replied, “You’ll have to wait and see! It will be a mixture of the two. Our job is to focus on storytelling without sets and costumes.”
Staging for the concert sounds simple yet elegant. “Cast will be in evening dress. There will be black and white projections behind the actors, with images such as Brooklyn and a young Stephen Sondheim. These will give a black and white movie look.“
Working in the Recital Centre will be a new experience for the cast “That was half the attraction for me,” explains O’Connell. “It is a wonderfully acoustic venue. It will be great to hear the actors sing unamplified. It will be a different sound.“ One of the challenges of the rehearsal process is that the company will have limited access to the venue. “We will be in there to do a bit of singing on Wednesday but then we will not get on stage until the day of the show.”
The show will be presented with a three musicians providing accompaniment. Musical Director Vicky Jacobs will be on the baby grand, and there will be percussion and a double bass. “The youthful simplicity of the score will suit the sound,” expounds O’Connell. Given that most of the audience will be Sondheim fans, O’Connell states that they will hear early echoes of his later themes. “It’s full of Sondheim’s brilliant rhymes and wordplay.”
Our discussion turns to The Production Company, where O’Connell has directed so many shows. “One of the great things about The Production Company is that it has been a fantastic launch pad.” I asked whether anyone else from his TPC team was working on this production. “My Production Company choreographer Alana Scanlan is coming to do three days of staging with the cast.”
Saturday Night plays at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Monday 20 September. See What’s On for further details.
The full cast list:
Gene: Zac Tyler
Helen: Claire George
Artie: Chris Durling
Ted: Sam Ludeman
Ray: Casey Gould
Dino: Andrew Strano
Hank: Matt McFarlane
Bobby: Bernard Angel
Eugene / Vocalist: Jensen Overend
Celeste: Carla Kissane
Mildred: Montana Perrin
Dakota Doran / Florence: Lara Thew (pictured right, in [title of show])
Mr Fletcher: Rod Waterworth
Mr Fisher: Mark Doggett
Clune: Trevor Jones 
Chris Durling and Matt McFarlane at rehearsals for Fame: