Thoroughly disproving the old adage “you can’t go home again,” UK music theatre legend Marti Webb, now a sprightly, sunny 69, returns to the stage in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic song cycle Tell Me on a Sunday. More than thirty years ago, this was the show that made Webb famous, in much the same way that she made it a hit.
Not only was Webb the original star, playing a girl transplanted from London’s Muswell Hill to America, but the show was basically created upon her, in much the way that a new ballet is created upon its original dancers.
To see Webb in action again is to witness somewhat of a miracle in our throwaway, perfectly plastic society. With the audience spellbound throughout, Webb melts away the years to when musical hits still made the record charts and the radio playlists. Like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes, Webb fully inhabits the songs with a warm, unfussy demeanour, still raising a laugh with only a shrug or the raise of an eyebrow. An expert at less-is-more delivery, Webb gives a masterclass in the grounded, focused delivery of the gentle humour and aching longing in Don Black’s excellent lyrics.
The score for Tell Me on a Sunday undisputedly contains some of Webber’s most memorable and hummable melodies. “Take That Look off your Face” retains all of its power, while the title track “Tell Me on a Sunday” totally brings down the house. Haunting ballad “The Last Man in my Life” is included, but, disappointingly, not the wonderful “Unexpected Song.”
Adding significantly to the quality of proceedings is a band of seven musicians, who have a very impressive array of instruments at their fingertips. This extensive effort with the music helps immeasurably to recreate the original sound of the show.
A quick mention of the clever idea for “act one“ of the presentation. With a captive audience at hand, the producers put together a preview set of songs for musicals both coming soon and now playing. Think of it as the equivalent movie trailers before the feature attraction at a cinema. [To read about many more ideas like this one, have a look at Matt Bell’s excellent site Standing [Inn]ovation.]
With a keen music theatre audience watching, songs from three musicals were performed by Amelia Jackson and John O’Gara, supported by dancers Michael Colbourne and Tess Kadler. Bonnie and Clyde has played recently in London, and information seemed to indicate it is returning soon; Urinetown is set for a bumper season at St James Theatre (home of TMOAS), and Broadway smash Once is now playing at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre. “How ‘Bout a Dance,” “Follow Your Heart” and “Falling Slowly” were the highlights in this well selected, if somewhat unexpected, bracket.
The show ultimately belongs to Webb, of course, the delighted audience rewarding her efforts with rousing and extended applause.
Photos: Mike Eddowes