This early, unproduced Sondheim show was dusted off for mostly historical reasons and given an off-Broadway production in 2000. The book is insubstantial and fluffy even by the standards of its Fifties time period, but to be fair, the show we have today is essentially a first draft. Because of the unexpected death of the major Broadway producer who had taken the project under his wing, this show never went through the rehearsal and tryout process that might have led to its textual flaws being corrected. It’s not like it was written by some random hack…in addition to Sondheim, the show’s book was the work of Julius Epstein, one of the authors of the script for Casablanca.
But of course, since the show is mostly interesting as a missing link in the career of theater’s greatest composer, what you all want to know about is the score. Well, there are admittedly two clear duds, the self-consciously sophisticated “Class” and the brainless production number “One Wonderful Day”, and some of the other material (like the predictable “Love’s a Bond”) is of debatable consequence. But there are also several sparkling items that rank as minor Sondheim classics.
The title-song, an anthem for the dateless, makes for an oddly irresistible opening. “That Kind of a Neighborhood” still ranks as one of Sondheim’s funniest comedy numbers, and the clear-eyed “In the Movies” and the intricate “Exhibit A” aren’t far behind. Of the ballads, “All for You” is something of a cliche, but “So Many People” and “What More Do I Need?” seem like they could have been standards had things gone differently.
Also of note are the contrapuntal charm tune “A Moment With You”, the attractive waltz “Isn’t It?”, and the winning duet “I Remember That”. The latter song is admittedly closely modeled on Alan Jay Lerner’s “I Remember It Well” (not the Gigi version, which this show actually predates, but the original version from Lerner’s collaboration with Kurt Weill, Love Life). Still, even if it is something less than original, it’s still a great concept for a song, and Sondheim did set it to one of the show’s most appealing melodies.
The score doesn’t compare to most of Sondheim’s later work, but it is a generally delightful effort that is well worth hearing for more than historical or scholarly reasons. The first full recording of the score, made from the initial London revival, is frankly pretty bad and failed to remotely match the quality of the individual songs from the show that had been recorded on various Sondheim compilations and anthologies over the years. Fortunately, the off-Broadway cast recording is a vast improvement, with excellent performances by David Campbell, Andrea Burns, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Lauren Ward, and that recording comes highly recommended to any Sondheim fan.