‘Tell Me On a Sunday’ is a quiet, sparkling gem of a musical, giving its leading lady, Jodie Prenger, the opportunity to stretch her vocal and acting talents, and shine on stage.
This touring production, which was originally staged by the Watermill Theatre in 2016 and is directed by Paul Foster, seems particularly appropriate as audiences return to the theatre. As a one-woman show, it is naturally socially distanced, but also the intimacy of the performance and the reflective nature of the story echo our own experiences over the last 18 months. Taking stock, learning what our priorities are, and moving on.
The show is a complete contrast to most of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s shows in its scale and scope. ‘Tell Me on a Sunday’ offers a window on the romantic life of Emma, an English girl in New York in the 1980s. Alone on stage for the whole show, Prenger reacts to friends and lovers as if they are in the room, and makes this very difficult thing convincing. From painful romantic break up to the breathless anticipation of a new liaison, Prenger leads us through the highs and lows of the sophisticated score. Impassioned numbers, such as the chart-topping ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’, contrast with heartfelt ballads and quickly turn to comedic interludes, like ‘Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad’.
Much of the comedy of the piece comes from the observation of the differences in the New York or American attitudes to things versus the British. We have Don Black to thank for the witty lyrics, and the candid letters Emma writes home to her Mum are particularly amusing.
Prenger’s performance as Emma is a resounding success, encompassing the emotional and vocal range of the show with aplomb. From belting final notes to measured, poignant expression, her voice is fully controlled and affecting. Her diction is excellent, essential to ensure the audience can follow the storyline in full. The script has Emma’s origins in Muswell Hill, London – it would feel more convincing if this were shifted to reflect Prenger’s Northern roots, as the comedy lands particularly well when she occasionally slips into her natural accent.
The very hard-working band of four musicians, on-stage at all times, cover a multitude of instruments and the different styles of songs with panache. It feels almost like Andrew Lloyd-Webber has a palette of ideas to try out and with a dab here and a dash there, he creates a beautiful sketch in music. It is certainly a score which feels fresh and full of curiosity, but this may be due to the lack of public awareness of the show more widely than its few hit singles.
After the main show, Prenger returns to the stage with her touring understudy, Jodie Beth Meyer, for an intimate post-show chat and a few more songs. She holds the stage like a professional raconteur and responds easily and naturally to questions from the audience. Jodie Beth Meyer shows off her fine voice and the pair duet handsomely. It is a very fitting and pleasant way to wrap up the evening.
Local touring dates:
- Nottingham Theatre Royal 10-14 August
- Sheffield Lyceum 31 Aug to 4 September
- Leicester Curve 12 – 16 Oct