Tell Me on a Sunday
|Tell Me on a Sunday|
|Music||Andrew Lloyd Webber|
2003 West End
2010 UK tour
Tell Me on a Sunday is a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black. A one-act song cycle, it tells the story of an ordinary English girl from Muswell Hill, who journeys to the United States in search of love. Her romantic misadventures begin in New York City, lead her to Hollywood, and eventually take her back to Manhattan.
The musical is based on an idea originally conceived by Tim Rice, who intended to develop it as a cycle of television shows with songwriting partner Andrew Lloyd Webber. The two relished working on a small-scale project following Evita. Shortly after they began working, however, Lloyd Webber realized Rice was writing specifically for Elaine Paige, with whom the married father of two young children was having a blatant affair. Lloyd Webber felt that allowing Paige to appear in the series would suggest he approved of the relationship, so he decided to look for a new lyricist. He opted for Don Black who, following a successful stint in Hollywood (including an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Born Free"), had begun writing for the theatre. Although it had proven to be unsuccessful, his Bar Mitzvah Boy had impressed Lloyd Webber, who thought Black would be a good match.
Rice's original concept had kept 'the girl' in the UK. It was Black who suggested she emigrate to the States. He quickly began writing lyrics for several tunes Lloyd Webber already had composed. It was their intent to present as complete a work as possible at the Sydmonton Festival in September 1979. The two decided to cast Marti Webb, who was portraying Eva Perón at the matinee performances of Evita, as their heroine.
The show was positively received at Sydmonton Festival in 1979, which promoted the release of a recording later that year, and a special one-hour BBC television show recorded at the Royalty Theatre in London on 28 January 1980. The broadcast on 12 February was a critical success and garnered high ratings; thus repeated the following month. Following its transmission, the album reached #2 on the UK charts, and the single release "Take That Look Off Your Face" reached #3.
Lloyd Webber decided the piece would work well on the stage if paired appropriately with another one-act piece. He previously had considered writing a brief operatic piece about the friendship between Giacomo Puccini and Ruggiero Leoncavallo, going so far as to compose the melody that later would become "Memory" for it, but decided it would not fit well with 'the girl's' saga. He tried adapting the Charles Dickens work The Signal-Man, but decided it was too gloomy and rejected it as well. Eventually he and Black set aside Tell Me on a Sunday and turned to other projects.
Combined into Song and Dance
In 1982, the creative team decided to combine Tell Me on a Sunday with a ballet choreographed to Lloyd Webber's Variations, a classical piece based on the A Minor Caprice No. 24 by Paganini that had debuted at Sydmonton in 1977. Tell Me on a Sunday became Act I of Song and Dance, which was staged in the West End with Marti Webb as 'the girl'. She later was succeeded by Lulu, Gemma Craven, Liz Robertson, and Sarah Brightman.
Three years later, lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. was brought in to help create an Americanised version of Tell Me on a Sunday for Broadway, with Bernadette Peters as 'the girl', now renamed as Emma. It opened on 18 September 1985 to mixed reviews. Writing in the New York Post, Clive Barnes thought it was "the best thing that Lloyd Webber has written for the theater," but Frank Rich of the New York Times was not impressed, observing that "empty material remains empty, no matter how talented those who perform it. Emma is a completely synthetic, not to mention insulting, creation whom no performer could redeem." Peters went on to win the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, but the show failed to win Best Musical or Best Original Score. Black, unimpressed that Peters had insisted on gathering background information about the character, later said he preferred the original London production and Webb's performance.
Revision as a stand-alone piece
Reverted to its one-act format, Tell Me on a Sunday was substantially updated and rewritten, with five new songs and additional material by Jackie Clune, for a 2003 London production at the Gielgud Theatre. The BBC critic observed, "this may be the smallest show Lloyd Webber's ever written, but the score (to appropriately conversational lyrics by Don Black) contains several of his very best songs." Directed by Christopher Luscombe and starring Denise Van Outen, it ran for ten months. Marti Webb succeeded Van Outen and subsequently toured the UK with the show, alternating with former Steps vocalist, Faye Tozer, and actress Patsy Palmer. The show, with musical supervision by Simon Lee, featured an all-electronic band, consisting of three keyboards, a bass guitar, electric guitar, electro-acoustic guitar and a Roland V-Drums kit.
In 2008, the Alloy Theater Company staged the original one-act version with Irish actress, Maxine Linehan, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in New York City. That same year, Bailiwick Repertory produced the Chicago premiere starring Harmony France to rave reviews and the Kookaburra Theatre presented the Australian premiere starring Jolene Anderson, with Noni Hazlehurst and John Waters providing the voices of "Mum" and "Married Man" respectively. Despite mixed reviews, it had sellout performances in both Sydney and Melbourne.
Tell Me on a Sunday, in its one-act and "definitive" format, toured the United Kingdom, starring Claire Sweeney as 'the girl' with direction by Tamara Harvey. It began on 30 August 2010 at Northampton's Royal Theatre and continued until autumn 2011. The song list and order sticks very closely to the 1982 Song and Dance version, with the addition of the finale song "Dreams Never Run On Time", itself a rewrite of the song from the 2003 version "Somewhere, Someplace, Sometime". Minor script rewrites were made to update it for the 21st century and also reference the main character as originating from Liverpool - like Claire Sweeney herself.
In the original production, 'the girl' arrives in New York City. She tells her pal she does not want to become a hard-bitten career woman or a user of men. Shortly after, she discovers her beau has been cheating on her with numerous other women and she walks out.
'The girl' meets Hollywood producer Sheldon Bloom, who takes her to Los Angeles. Sheldon's career ambitions preclude his spending much time on a personal relationship and, after realizing life in the film capital is uneventful and Sheldon has been using her as a trophy girlfriend, 'the girl' returns to Manhattan.
Back in Greenwich Village, 'the girl' meets a salesman, and once again faces disappointment when she learns he frequently has been in town with other women when he supposedly was away on business. The two split up and she meets a married man. Intent on succeeding in her career and acquiring a green card, 'the girl' is content with the noon-to-two relationship she and the married man share, until he announces he has told his wife everything and wants to leave her and marry 'the girl'. She is horrified because not only does she not love him, but she realizes she's been using him, something she had vowed never to do. She sends the married man away and promises herself she will return to being the idealistic and ethical woman she was when she first arrived in the States.
'The girl' is the only person who appears on stage, despite having conversations with her friends and writing letters to her mum.
'The girl's' name
In the Marti Webb recording and subsequent London productions (of both Tell Me on a Sunday and Song and Dance), the lead character is not named, nor are most of the men she has relationships with, except Sheldon Bloom/Tyler King (2003 version). When Tell Me was combined with "Variations" to form Song and Dance, "the girl" was finally given a name - Emma, in the 1985 Broadway production, starring Bernadette Peters. This was the result of the rewrite of plot and lyrics, and "Americanization" by Don Black and Richard Maltby Jr.
Original 1980 album
2003 London production
1982 London production
2010 UK tour
- Citron, Stephen. Sondheim & Lloyd-Webber: The New Musical. New York, New York: Oxford University Press 2001. ISBN 0-19-509601-0 pp. 262-63
- Citron, p. 264
- Citron, p. 266
- Citron, p.266-67
- Citron, p. 309
- Inverne, James, Wrestling With Elephants: The Authorised Biography of Don Black. London: Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. 2003. ISBN 1-86074-468-0, p. 137
- BBC review
- Alloy Theater website
- "Official 2010 UK tour website".
- Official website
- History of the production and review of the 2004 UK tour
- Official 2010 UK tour website