“Long lost feelings, stir inside me”
Like many a child of the 80s, or so I like to imagine, a cassette of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits was never too far from the car stereo, and so I’ve long been familiar with Tell Me On A Sunday and long been a fan thereof. Clearly others feel this way as the enduring popularity of the show means it has never been too far from our stages, with this latest iteration originating at Newbury’s Watermill before an extensive UK tour.
Perhaps with this sense of a classic in mind, Paul Foster’s production sticks with the original setting of the late 1970s and in Jodie Prenger, finds the ideal performer to convey the multiple romantic trials of this Englishwoman in New York – David Woodhead’s simple design evoking the period setting without overemphasising it. Prenger’s old-school charms suit the role perfectly, there’s something almost perverse in how watchable she is when playing heart-broken but crucially she invests Emma with an indefatigable quality of spirit that never seems to be truly broken.
Which lends her interpretation of these songs a tangible emotional depth, aided by Don Black’s evergreen lyrical work. The iconic title song has never sounded fresher, her almost clipped delivery a masterclass in restraint, the glorious ‘Last Man in My Life’ sparkles with hopes and dreams, a tearful ‘Nothing Like You’ve Ever Known’ just spine-tingling. And musical director Peter McCarthy (for whom this was the final show, Francis Goodhand takes over the reins from here on in) ensures a vitality of sound from the superb band.
An eternal problem with mounting this show though, is in how to make an evening of it. Presumably the economics of an hour-long piece don’t stack up, theatres like their interval bar takings after all, and so Tell Me On A Sunday has had many an add on. Song gained Dance, Marti Webb’s return to the show in 2014 was preceded by an odd West End showcase but here, we get a cabaret-style second act which works well.
A Q&A session allows her wry sense of humour to emerge but the highlights are the songs, ‘Secret Love’ from Calamity Jane (in which she toured extensively last year), a duet on ‘Another Suitcase from Another Hall’ with her talented understudy Jodie Beth Meyer and finally ‘Unexpected Song’, unexpectedly not in the main show itself but gorgeously sung here as a subtly moving finale. Almost as much fun as singing along from the back seat of my parents’ car on a French autoroute.