Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Tell Me on a Sunday

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Don Black, additional material by Jackie Clune
Empire Theatre, Sunderland, and touring
(2004)

I was a great fan of the original version of Tell Me on a Sunday. Not that I ever saw it on stage but I wore out the cassette in my car and knew every word and every note. I also was much impressed by Marti Webb. People whose opinions I respect tell me they enjoyed the revived, re-written version with Denise Van Outen in the West End, and so I approached the touring version - starring Patsy Palmer of EastEnders fame - with mixed feelings and confused expectations.

First, the show itself. I liked the introduction of the "girls" whom the central character emails and the use of "mum's" telephone calls, but I wasn't so keen on some of the new songs. Somewhere, Someplace, Sometime, for me lacked the power of ending of the orginal, Tell Me on a Sunday itself, which is a much more moving song. Quite rightly, Ms Palmer uses Tell Me as an encore. Somewhere tends towards the sentimental and pales in comparison with the similarly named but much more moving Somewhere (Someday, Somehow) from West Side Story, which its title and theme called to mind immediately I saw the title in the song list. And once I got over the initial shock of discovering that I'm Very You, You're Very Me is now sung to the nine year old daughter of her married lover, I rather liked it!

On the whole, however, apart from the weakened ending, for me the expanded version does work.

And what of Ms Palmer? She is not a singer but an actress who sings. For much of the time she can get away with that, because she can project the emotion. Her breathing is that of an actress so that often her delivery is more Rex Harrison than Marti Webb. To be honest, this didn't matter except in Unexpected Song (I'm sure it wasn't in the original. It's an import, surely?), which was, frankly, awful. The song itself is slightly out of place, I feel, being much more melodic than the rest, and Palmer simply does not come close to doing it justice. In her defence, however, I think that any non-singer would be exactly the same.

Essentially Tell Me on a Sunday is a song cycle rather than a musical, so to make it work on stage demands a lot of both the performer and the production team. The latter do an excellent job: Rob Howell's design and Hugh Vanstone's lighting are great - however did we manage before intelligent lights! - and Matthew Warchus (the original director) and Christopher Luscombe (who directed the touring version) manage to sustain our interest through what could easily have become a very static production.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan