Tell Me On a Sunday continues at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury until 20 February, before touring until 8 June.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Returning to the Watermill stage following a national tour in the title role of Calamity Jane, Jodie Prenger restrains her natural effervescence to encapsulate the character of Emma as she struggles through her mismatched relationships with a variety of men.
Don Black’s observational lyrics, accompanying Andrew Lloyd Webber’s melodies, allow Prenger to delve into a variety of emotions from the acerbic ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’ to the sharp wit of ‘Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad’ and the reflective ‘It’s Not the End of the World’. She conveys the character’s many personality traits from demure to girlish to resentful, telling the story with empathy and fervour.
Since its West End premiere in 1982, Tell Me On a Sunday has morphed from a 40 minute one-act piece through a reincarnation as Act I of Song and Dance (together with Variations) and now into an hour’s one-act one-hander platform for strong actress/singers. Additional and more recent musical numbers slot comfortably into the original song list.
Prenger’s Lancashire accent slips through occasionally, despite the development of Americanisms within the script over the past few decades, but this incongruous slant on her character’s Muswell Hill background leaves little negative impact.
Designed by David Woodhead, the miniature New York skyline overlaid with 1980s props not only sets the scene perfectly but has the added advantage of screening the onstage band. A technical hitch at this performance meant that the sustain pedal on the keyboard broke and had to be replaced with an acoustic piano, at first overpowering, but Prenger easily rose to the challenge.
Following an interval, the actress transforms herself from florals and flounce into a knockout black dress for a personable 30 minute question and answer session with the audience. As well as a few musical numbers accompanied by director Paul Foster on piano, understudy Jodie Beth Meyer secures the opportunity to exercise her comparable vocal chords in a moving duet of ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ (Evita).