In 1980, while appearing in the company of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd on Broadway, performer, and later playwright, Craig Lucas used his friendship with the composer to get him to open up his trunk of cut songs from his earlier musicals. Along with songs from Sondheim’s at the time never produced first musical, Saturday Night, Lucas and director Norman Rene crafted a short two-hander revue that played off-off and then off-Broadway. Since then, it has been produced around the world. The L.A. Premiere was in 1983 courtesy of producer Ed Gaynes and featured his performer wife Pamela Hall and soon-to-be daytime soap star Brad Maule.
Long Beach’s International City Theatre has kicked off their 37th Anniversary Season with a sparkling new production featuring Katy Tang and Nick Tubbs. The very thin plot by Lucas and Rene has two young, lonely New Yorkers, who live one below the other, bemoaning the fact they are alone on a “Saturday Night”. Even though they are neighbors the two have never met but have fantasized and their loneliness and fantasies carry us through 18 songs. Some tunes might sound familiar to those who have seen Sondheim’s Follies, for even though the lyrics are not heard in that show, some of the melodies were used as underscoring. Some others of these cut songs might easily fit into the plot of A Little Night Music.
Director Kari Hayter has provided enough busy work for her performers that there is never a dull moment as her two characters read the paper, have a drink or three, nibble a bit, get ready for bed as well as fantasize about the cute girl upstairs/the handsome guy below. They go out on the building’s fire escape for a smoke, or to water the plants or to sing a plaintive note or two. The talented duo are in great voice and show true versatility whether in the comic “Pour Le Sport” or the plaintive “Who Could Be Blue/Little White House”. They powerfully deliver the revue’s two showstopping numbers, both bitter precursors to “Being Alive” from Company. Tang wows with the acidic lyrics to “Marry Me A Little” and also belts out “There Won’t Be Trumpets”. Tubbs excels with the sarcastic and biting lyrics of “Happily Ever After” after working his way through the tongue-twisting “Uptown, Downtown”. They both delve the depths of wistful in such tunes as “So Many People” and “It Wasn’t Meant to Happen”.
Although the show envelops you with a melancholic blanket of tunes, there is a glimmer of hope because tomorrow is another day filled with possibilities, even in a Sondheim show. Donna Ruzika’s lighting design is masterful as ever and JR Norman Luker has designed the most detailed set I’ve ever witnessed for this show. The fire escape alone is worthy of kudos but his divided sofa and bed, the kitchen table with mismatched chairs give the show that two separate apartments touch that is needed. The true star of this production is the virtuoso work of musical director/pianist/sole accompanist Diane King Vann who virtually plays non-stop for 60-plus minutes. “Bang!” “All Things Bright and Beautiful” are on wonderfully on display here.
562-436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org. Ends Feb. 27.