After having its world premiere in London in 1997, 43 years after it was written, Stephen Sondheim's first professional musical, Saturday Night, was produced in Chicago in 1999 and finally, on January 18, 2000, opened off-Broadway in New York. Based on a play by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, it tells the tale of a group of male friends in Brooklyn in 1929, most of whom are focused on getting dates on Saturday night, though one is determined to rise socially and financially, even if he has to break a few rules to do it. The young Sondheim demonstrates a feel for these ethnic characters that probably helped lead the producers of West Side Story to think he could also handle the words sung by the gang members in that show. But as in West Side Story, he sometimes has them using a vocabulary that is implausibly large, and the songs show off the sharp wit for which he later became known, especially "In the Movies," which contrasts real life with screen fantasy, and "What More Do I Need?," a declaration of love despite the travails of urban life. The tuneful music is a mixture of 1950s show music conventions and accurate pastiches of 1920s pop, the latter including "Love's a Bond," a song it's easy to imagine coming out of the megaphone of Rudy Vallée. The 1997 London production of Saturday Night produced a cast album in 1998, but this one is an improvement on it. Sondheim revised the show for the Chicago production, and this album contains several previously unheard songs and reprises. The American cast is an improvement on the British one, which sometimes had trouble with those Brooklyn accents. And the album is packaged with an elaborate CD booklet that contains the lyrics. As such, this Saturday Night is the preferred recording.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann