Tonight I saw a production of 'Tell Me On A Sunday' which was, of course, written 30 years ago for Marti Webb by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black. Now Claire Sweeney has finally got the chance to perform the role since she had to turn down replacing Denise Van Outen in the 2003 production.
'Tell Me ... ' is one of those shows that is often tailored to individual performers since it is a one woman show about the trial and tribulations of looking for love in New York. When it was first produced as a stage show (as part of 'Song and Dance') the original album was reworked with additional songs and new running order. Marti Webb reprised her role as the nameless 'Girl'.
Throughout the original London run it was tweaked occasionally and when it was filmed for television with Sarah Brightman in the lead role the running order was again different with reworked and more additional songs including 'Unexpected Song' (which, truth be told, was a reworking of the finale number 'When You Want To fall In Love' which was a sung version of 'Variation 5' form the dance part of the show).
When the show moved to Broadway it was re-written again and Americanised by Richard Maltby Jr who supplied new lyrics and directed the show giving it a revised plot and giving the heroine a name; 'Emma'. He also integrated the dance section with the song section by having the second act tell the story of 'Joe' who 'Emma' had fallen in love with in the first act.
When the London revival came around in 2003 it was re-written to suit Denise Van Outen and was reworked as a full length one woman song cycle and to that end new songs were rewritten and the lyrics were updated to reference email, speed dating and the such. In my opinion Denise Van Outen has far too thin a voice to carry such a show and sh certainly lacks any punch in the big belt number such as 'Take That Look Off Your Face'. The changes and additions to this new version of 'Tell Me On A Sunday' added little to the piece and only served to highlight Van Outen's 'comedic' talent and voice (or lack of).
Claire Sweeney you had a lucky break missing that clumsy version of a show!
This new production reworks the score again, re-ordering the songs, cutting most of the newer ones (the pleasant enough 'Haven In the Sky' which served to illustrate the character's journey from Blighty the NYC and the ghastly 'Speed Dating' - this new version restores the idea that the 'Girl' is already in New York) and tweaking lyrics. Director Tamara Harvey aims to show us the struggles of the renamed 'Laura' with only the odd 'appearance' of anyone else onstage for Sweeney to reference.
The first act is a little muddled plot-wise, but this is only when you compare it to act two which is dominated by Laura's relationship with a married man and its consequences.
The creation of the song 'Dreams Never Run on Time', a rewritten 'Somewhere, Someplace, Sometime' from the 2003 production, and final reprise of 'Take That Look Off Your Face' make a satisfying finale to the piece where it sort of fizzled out in the original version.
The musical arrangements (no orchestrator is listed) are quite spot on, with a five piece band of keyboard, drums, wind, cello and double bass (providing some thrilling deep notes) creating a sound that is perfect for this production. The original London production had the full works complete with electric guitars which I'm sure were appropriate at the time, but this more intimate version is one of 'less is more' and I found I didn't miss those original arrangements. The band is clearly visible on a platform above the playing area which consists of a small apartment layout of bed, kitchenette and living area (there is a bathroom offstage as utilised in one scene where one of 'Laura's' boyfriends is taking a shower with steam that just creeps onstage from the wings - effective, I thought) with several windows on the rear wall through which 'Laura' peers at the opening of the show. These areas are used throughout the evening to various effect with the only alteration of set coming when 'Laura' relocates to Beverly Hills where we see her on a sun lounger that comes in from front stage right.
The lighting was quite simple yet perfectly attuned and much could be said of the sound design.
As for Claire Sweeney as 'Laura', well, here we have a character who we must believe in, who we must come to empathise with and, perhaps, even come to love. For the most part Sweeney succeeds although it took a number or two for her to get into the swing of things. Her voice is certainly stronger than Van Outen's but Sweeney does sound more comfortable on the lower notes at which she is quite excellent. She is guilty of a lot of air clawing and reaching out of arms and I feel she is trying too hard (or is directed in such a way) but she especially came into her own in the first act finale, the title song 'Tell Me On A Sunday', where she sang the line 'Take the hurt out of all the pain' with such emotion that you almost felt like the guilty party in the breaking up of this relationship. In the second act, with more of a plot to play with, Sweeney really took us along a journey, despite the quibbles mentioned earlier.
So, although the show started with a little trepidation, it turned out to be quite a fulfilling performance with an excellent band providing the musical support to Sweeney.