Vol. 4, No. 1, Summer 1997
The Huntington Theater Company presents the revised Company in the city where the show first tried out
News & Notes
For your amusement
The Sondheim Scrapbook
By Sean Patrick Flahaven
The score for Saturday Night, the show-that-almost-was, exists in a select few memories, documents and recordings. Pieced together from various sources, the score reveals the young Sondheim already on his way to becoming a tremendously skillful composer and lyricist.
His first professional effort after Hammerstein's tutelage, Saturday Night is Sondheim's most "traditional" score, following the standard scene-song format that prevailed until Company and other shows of its kind in the 1970s.
As a period piece, the songs reflect the lyric techniques of Hammerstein in their simplicity, colloquialisms and clever rhymes. The great length of some of the songs is noticeable, especially on the early backers' audition tapes. As was the technique then, long verse-intros led into AABA statements, followed by dance breaks and reprises. The sheer volume of material was perhaps a young Sondheim trying to prove his ability to produce a full score.
In terms of Sondheim's canon, elements of the style and sound of the songs in Saturday Night are not heard in his next work as a composer-lyricist, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Sondheim has said that it may be possible to remove the score to Forum and have a coherent play. He said the same about Saturday Night in 1995, and since the original book is full of silly characters and unconvincing plot twists, in this case the score may be the element to stand on its own.
One might hear stylistic bits of Saturday Night later in Anyone Can Whistle, the film score for Stavisky, and the pastiche or period songs in Follies and A Little Night Music. There are moderately complex jazz rhythms and harmonies, with a wistful touch of French Romanticism, although, like most of Sondheim, it's American at heart.
Sondheim's reference to his score for Saturday Night as "light-hearted" is absolutely on the mark, but it shouldn't be regarded as unworthy of attention--there are some gems. And most important, as in Forum , there is a great deal of joy. True, it's on the surface for the most part, not deep within, as in Sunday in the Park with George or Passion, but it's great fun.
The opening title number begins with Dino's rapid, chromatic ragtime figure on the piano, alternating with Artie on the ukulele. The boys sing, alternating lines in their pleas for dates.
He's gonna get the axe from her;
How does the combination of
The moon's like a million-watt electric sign
Moonlight on Flatbush Avenue
So what can you do on a Saturday night, alone?
Who needs a view on a Saturday night, alone?
If it's a Saturday night and you are single,
And home is a place where you gotta go back, alone.
Home is a place where the future looks black, alone.
I like the Sunday Times all right, but not in bed.
The tone of the whole show is set perfectly, as is the basic (though it seems too strong a word) conflict. We know nothing truly tragic is going to happen during the evening.
The most interesting part of the song comes about halfway through when the boys trade off repeating the word "Love," which leads into a canonical restatement of the chorus.
In 1959, when Saturday Night was given a second chance, Sondheim decided he didn't want to return to old work. Certainly after West Side Story, the boys on Flatbush Avenue seemed too tame. But the same feeling of quintessential New York returned in Company in 1970, as did the choral "We LOOOOVE you!"
The next song, "Class," a bouncy number in which Gene introduces himself and his social aspirations, rides a syncopated 12/8 groove. The high-society content and playful tone of the lyrics recall Porter or Hart, and musically it's equally clever. The stated key of E Major for most of the song is actually fluctuating with D Major and a great deal of chromaticism, while the melodic line sits on F# and B, implying Gene sitting just outside the flashy world he adores.
The bridge is my rainbow,
He goes on to mispronounce words and use incorrect French phrases, finally ending with the defiant, "I don't want to be what I am/I want to be what I can."
"Isn't It?" Helen and Gene's first dance number, when she fakes a Southern accent, is a funny, bright waltz. The simple oom-pah-pah rhythm and smooth voice leading in the accompaniment disguises some jazzy harmonic language that temporarily takes us away from the stated key of D Major and into the fantasy world of their dreams.
This is nice, isn't it?
"I Remember That," a duet for the married couple, Hank and Celeste, is the first major Sondheim "memory" song. Later instances include "I Remember" from Evening Primrose (1968) and, of course, "Remember" from A Little Night Music (1973), to which this song is a close relative.
Hank's lengthy, rubato verse-intro sets up the joke, a recollection of their first date. In the song proper, a simple, lilting tune with a moderate accompaniment in 4/4, Hank paints an idyllic romantic picture. The AABA' structure repeats with Celeste recalling a slightly more realistic version, though with a sweet ending.
I was dressed at seven,
Since you'd bought me flowers,
"I Remember That" was moved to later in Act One, and possibly cut in later versions. Since Hank and Celeste were secondary characters at best, their duet had no real bearing on the plot.
The next song, "Exhibit 'A'" is 16-year-old Bobby's instructions for seduction to Gene. Sondheim described the style of the song as "a kind of a dirty soft-shoe." It is actually a very funny list song that brings to mind the crazy logic of "Simple" from Anyone Can Whistle (1964) and Fredrik's legal reasoning in "Now" from A Little Night Music. The influence of Hammerstein and Harburg's word-bending is clearly at work here, illustrating the character's ignorance.
Ev'ry little pillow has its use--
And so on, for seven more "exhibits." The sexism of the lyric is rendered mostly inoffensive by Bobby's obvious lack of experience and foolishness. The jazzy 12/8 accompaniment is fairly similar to "Class."
When Helene arrives and reveals herself to be plain old Helen Fogel, Gene confesses himself and they turn on the Victrola. "A Moment with You" begins as a dance number and ends as a duet with Helen and Gene singing along with the "recorded" vocal duet.
The lyric is gently amusing and deliberately sappy. Sondheim clearly understood the genres of popular music in the period. Recorded Voice 2 echoes Voice 1 (and later Gene and Helen) throughout the song.
GENE & VOICE 1: VOICE 2:
It took It took Fred Astaire
In no time
A large AABA structure and an accompaniment in cut time that alternates between oom-pah and melodic doubling allow the choreographer to turn "A Moment with You" into another dance routine. The plot leaps forward here, with Gene getting in deeper financial trouble by selling his cousin's car. Helen disapproves, and tries to convince him that she no longer desires the high life in "So Many People." It would be a straight-ahead torch song (and it's been done as such in many cabarets) if not for Gene singing the tune the first time through after Helen's verse-intro. She joins him for the last chorus in a duet:
So many people in the world
This bittersweet quality recurs in "Too Many Mornings" from Follies (1971). In fact, the style and structure of that duet are also quite similar to "So Many People."
The finale of Act One, "One Wonderful Day," is a big, uptempo chorus number in which the boys both celebrate and bemoan Gene and Helen's presumed impending engagement. The song begins with quotes from "Here Comes the Bride," "Happy Birthday," "Heart and Soul" and "Chopsticks" before Celeste sings her silly good wishes. Young Bobby replies with a stereotypical warning: "One Horrible Day." Finally, everyone joins in:
One wonderful day,
Goofy, yes, but also in keeping with the tone of the show. It almost makes one think everything will be fine, until the last bit of book scene, when "Pinhead" calls the cops about his stolen car.
The second act begins with a reprise of "Saturday Night," followed by another duet (!) for Helen and Gene, "All for You."
I'm all for you,
It rides the line between the stilted tunes like "A Moment with You" and the upcoming "Love's a Bond," (when the songs are part of the scenery, rather than the drama) and the genuine "So Many People." Musically, the intro's opening figure in the right hand of a rising fourth followed by a descending second brings to mind the opening figures of the overture to Follies and "Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along (1981).
Not surprisingly then, the next song moment, a brief reprise of "So Many People," features an alternate lyric for Helen, just as Frank and Beth have in Merrily.
And if they shout, "Look out!"
Also in this speakeasy scene is the aforementioned "Love's a Bond," a song that was also placed near the top of Act Two, when Gene attempts to crash the ball at the Plaza. To be performed "Bouncily and without expression," the song makes a humorous connection between romance and Wall Street.
Love's a bond that's pure
As AT&T will
"In the Movies" occurs at various points of Act Two on the backers' audition tapes, but is marked Act One, Scene 3 on the score. It's the big date song at the end of the evening at the movie house, when the boys argue over who paid for what, while the girls titter about the upcoming feature with Valentino. The song is long and complex, but extremely entertaining, giving a glimpse at some of the minor characters. It's clear that the girls are the realistic ones and the boys are petty. Like several of the songs, there are references to the vagaries of life in Brooklyn.
If a person treads the path of sin
Like "One Wonderful Day," "That Kind of a Neighborhood" is a big, uptempo chorus number that would be extraneous if not for the great rhymes in the lyrics. Its paean to Brooklyn, a slow chorale in the middle of the song, is young Sondheim's ironic best.
"What More Do I Need?" was probably written sometime between 1955 and 1959, as Sondheim intended to replace one of the ballads with this song, illustrating Helen's acceptance of Brooklyn as she consoles Gene in the police station. Though not in the original score, the song was included in the revue Marry Me a Little (1981) and published.
It's a bit fast for a ballad, and it's a clear precursor of "Another Hundred People" from Company in its list of New York's lovable qualities.
Once I hated this city.
What, thought I, could be duller,
A wall of rain as it turns to sleet,
My window pane has a lovely view:
The lyric twists at the end to involve Gene, and she pleads, "With your love, what more do I need?" Musically, it's almost a combination of "A Moment with You" and "One Wonderful Day."
The finale of the show, with convenient deus ex machina plot resolution, involves reprises of "That Kind of a Neighborhood," "Isn't It?" "A Moment with You," "All for You" and "One Wonderful Day"--very typical of its time.
Saturday Night is a fine example of Sondheim testing his wings at an early age. Some of the songs are gems, others need more polishing, but even without revision, the score remains a delight to explore and enjoy. We can only hope that there will be a recording of all of these songs so that everyone can experience these seeds of his later work.
Sean Patrick Flahaven writes musicals in New York City and is the associate editor of The Sondheim Review.
"Saturday Night," "Class," "Isn't It?," "I Remember That," "Exhibit 'A'," "A Moment with You," "So Many People," "One Wonderful Day," "All for You," "Love's a Bond," "In the Movies," "That Kind of a Neighborhood."
© 1955, Rilting Music, Inc. All rights administered by WB Music Corp. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission
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