Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge – until 2 October 2021
Reviewed by Steph Lott
‘Tell me on a Sunday’, with music written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black, is a one-woman, one act musical. Set in the 1980s, it tells the story of an English girl, Emma, from Muswell Hill, who travels to the USA to find romance. We follow the ups and downs of her life in love, travelling from New York to California and back again to NYC, in search of a man.
Superbly directed by Paul Foster, this is a wonderful revival of a show that has been performed many times. It’s a small scale show but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, set to conversational lyrics by Don Black is lovely. The construction is elegant, with repeated melodies that tie it all together. The set creates an intimate impression; an apartment in the 80s set against a backdrop of New York. I enjoyed the cosy simplicity of the set, with a human sized model of the Statue of Liberty and the iconic NYC skyline, which was cleverly lit to create moments of drama. The music was expertly played by the band of musicians on stage behind Jodie Beth Meyer, who was standing in for Jodie Prenger at last night’s performance. There also was no Q&A.
I was however left somewhat perplexed by this show. The performances are wonderful but I had issues with the story itself. It feels outdated and artificial. Surely a young woman travelling to NYC should be looking for more than just a man, and I wonder if this is a reflection of a show which was written by 2 men. I kept wishing that Emma would focus on something other than unsuitable men and wondered what she was doing to earn her keep! It felt empty. I noted that the audience were on the older side and I reflected on what a younger audience would make of the material.
However when I parked those thoughts I enjoyed the show. Jodie Beth Meyer plays Emma with optimism and naivety; we see her struggles in relationships as she works her way through men who are unsuitable for her, and watch as she picks herself up again as each relationship fails. Jodie Beth Meyer’s Emma is sweet, played with sincerity; vulnerable and yet optimistic as each relationship fails in turn. She brings a spirit of defiance and lingering hope to the show’s underlying sadness of disappointed dreams, and navigates the shifting emotional gears of the story with confidence and ease. As the only actor in this piece of musical theatre, this is not easy. The audience I was with last night clearly enjoyed her performance. The show itself has fantastic music and superb lyrics, with many recognisable favourites such as ‘Take that look off your Face’ and ‘Tell me on a Sunday’. These create the narrative arch, told through song. I particularly enjoyed the moments when Emma wrote to her mum and told her the stories of her adventures, describing the ups and the downs. Jodie Beth Meyer made this relationship, and the other conversations she had with lovers and friends, come alive.
This iconic 80s musical, accompanied live by West End musicians, is a great show to go and see. I’ve been humming ‘Take that look off your Face’ ever since I left the theatre.