Tell Me on a Sunday does not have any kind of extravaganza usually associated with composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber. There are no crashing chandeliers, dancing cats, roller-skating singers or Technicolor Dreamcoats. Instead, the evening is a one-hour song cycle primarily about flawed romantic relationships.
A British woman who recently moved to New York, Emma (Bets Malone), sings every musical number during the evening. After breaking up with her latest boyfriend, she quickly continues to date other men hoping to find a devoted life partner.
Webber’s collaboration with Don Black, Sunset Boulevard and Aspects of Love lyricist, has changed quite a bit since premiering at the Hampshire Sydmonton Festival in 1977.
Originally a solo piece, Tell Me on a Sunday became the first part of the two-act theatrical event, Song and Dance.
Although casual fans of Webber might not be as familiar with the drama, the interpretation at Vista’s Broadway Theater features tunes from a 2010 UK Tour with British star, Claire Sweeney.
At the helm of the San Diego North County premiere is James Vasquez and he directs in an understated style. That is because Vasquez does not want to draw attention away from Malone.
Her depiction of Emma has many layers, which is to be expected from the award-winning artist. Malone is allowed to be playfully sensual, fragile, fiercely angry and optimistic over a short period of time.
Malone’s soaring voice gets to be featured in some touching melodies such as the title number and “Unexpected Song,” which Bernadette Peters sang in the Broadway adaptation of Song & Dance.
The most unconventional song interpretation is Malone’s singing on “Take That Look Off Your Face.” While initially designed as a big showstopper, she does not treat the solo as one. Instead, Malone focuses on the emotional impact of the lyrics and makes sure that the melody does not get in the way of the tale.
Musical director/pianist, Lyndon Pugeda, keeps up with Malone during every scene, which can be hard since Tell Me on a Sunday has some of Webber’s most strenuous music. The opening number, “Let Me Finish,” has the kind of complicated rhythms similar to some of Stephen Sondheim’s work.
Vasquez and co-owner of the Broadway Theater, Douglas Davis, create a set that actually helps enhance Emma. Nice touches in her home include a large stuffed animal, refrigerator and calendar reflecting the passage of time.
As Emma continues to look for Mr. Right, theatregoers might question how someone as goodhearted and smart as she can be taken advantage of so often by others. The truth though is that there are many women and even men who have experienced similar situations as the upbeat romantic.
Vasquez’s staging successfully combines material from different incarnations of Tell Me on a Sunday, but the climax gets resolved a little too quickly. During the first act of the London premiere of Song & Dance, a couple of extra minutes were spent building in a major conflict during the final section.
However, some might feel that the conclusion reflects reality and how sudden decisions can be in life. Also, the catharsis that Emma experiences does ultimately have a satisfying payoff.
Although it does not have the grandness usually associated with Webber, Tell Me On a Sunday, has evocative music, a refreshingly realistic plot and serves as a much-deserved showcase for Malone. There are not many opportunities to see this particular Webber story, so be sure to take advantage of the February engagement.