Hollywood Fringe 2016
Andrew Lloyd Webber classic gets an intimate theatre outing.
Tell me on a Sunday was Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black in 1979, since then it has had a storied history. It has been a Television musical (1980), half of a West End double-bill (Song and Dance 1982), adapted for America by Richard Maltby Jr.and presented on Broadway with Bernadette Peters (1985), and updated twice (2002 and 2014) for subsequent UK outings. It has finally made its way to L.A’s intimate theater. One can see, and hear, why it has been done so often; it must be the Everest of female musical-theater vehicles.
Shannon Nelson climbs the mountain with skill and passion. Using a version of the script that combines the best of what has been done before, Nelson tells the story of Emma, a British girl who comes to America. The songs capture her moods at moments throughout her odyssey, in love, out of love, betrayed, missing home, hopeful, vengeful, resigned.
Nelson sings and acts the role beautifully, her British accent had my English ears fooled most of the time so I’m sure a Hollywood audience would buy it without a thought.
Everybody knows at least some of the songs, but hearing them in their dramatic context will make you listen afresh. As a vocal workout, the score makes incredible demands that Nelson meets, her high belt being particularly impressive, but she also has a surprisingly warm lower register which brightens the technically difficult “Unexpected Song” and gives it a reed-y fluidity.
As an empowering story about a strong woman making her way in New York, L.A., then New York again, it is sadly dated at its core, which no amount of references to texting will remedy. Emma is seen only in relation to the men she is involved with, and her mood seems to be entirely dependent on the state of her current relationship. A tacked-on ending that allows for redemption and self-fulfillment doesn’t really excuse what has come before it. But in this context these are minor quibbles with a succession of old, male writers.
This is a lovingly-crafted production, directed with consummate skill and economy by musical theater veteran Calvin Remsberg. Musical direction and sensitive accompaniment by Richard Berent, who manages to coax a lovely sound from a piano that has clearly seen better days. Effective Lighting Design by Brendan Hunt and witty choreography by Matt Valle. But it is very definitely a one-woman show, and I don’t think anyone would fail to be impressed by her.