Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Don Black
Director: Paul Foster
Reviewer: Mary Scriven
Jodie Prenger shot to fame when she won BBC 1’s I’d Do Anything and went on to star in Cameron Mackintosh’s revival production of Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and if you go to see the latest production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s Tell Me on a Sunday, currently running at The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, you will find out exactly why she won the competition. Her performance is riveting.
Tell Me on a Sunday was never intended as a full-scale musical – it is a cross between a one-woman show and a song cycle that has a clear story line running through it. The very clever set, from designer David Woodhead, immediately places you in New York where our English heroine, Emma, now lives, and the story carries you through her turbulent and often tragic series of love affairs as she journeys through life seeking true happiness and fulfilment. And herein lies one of the secrets of the success of this production, as it is safe to say that every single member of the audience could identify with many of the emotions and experiences that she goes through.
Prenger’s performance as an actress is an absolute tour de force, as she so ably conveys the emotion of each failed love affair, the poignancy of the comfort she gets from writing letters home to her mother, and her touching resilience as she resolved to be optimistic about the future. But, even such a stunning performance as this pales into insignificance beside the sheer brilliance of her vocals. Prenger has the most astounding voice, which she needs to use to its greatest potential with the sheer vocal acrobatics that the part demands.
The songs are complex yet wonderfully tuneful in a wide variety of musical styles that demand an ability to perform jazz, ballads, Latin, boogie, folk and even comedy to equal effect, and she pulls it all off with extraordinary accomplishment. One of Emma’s lovers is a film producer, and in the very funny Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad she comments memorably on his lifestyle with ‘they’ve eaten nothing fried since Elvis Presley died’, and ‘a 60-year-old man who thinks he’s Peter Pan’. Yet the ballads, with lines like ‘just remember I’m the kind that cries’ really tear at the heartstrings.
The second half of the evening takes the form of a question-and-answer session with music, and here Prenger shows her talent to really connect with her audience in a down-to-earth way. After paying tribute to the brilliant musicians who accompany her throughout, she introduces us to her Musical Director Peter McCarthy (on piano) and her understudy Jodie Beth Meyer, who join her for the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic Another Suitcase in Another Hall. A final song brought to an end what is surely one of the most memorable evenings that musical theatre can have to offer. And you can’t say better than that!
Runs until Saturday 20 February 2016 then tours | Image:Tristram Kenton