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Understudy steps in to save the day (or Sunday)!

Review by David Munro

THE original version of Tell Me On A Sunday was written in 1979, while Andrew Lloyd Webber was in New York for the rehearsals of Evita.

Then it was a rather bleak little song cycle, about an 'Essex' girl in the States and her unsuccessful and unhappy love affairs.

Performed by Marti Webb at the 1979 Sydmonton Festival, and later on television, it was then put on the shelf, where it remained until a companion piece was sought for a dance programme based on Lloyd Webber's Variations on a theme by Paganini.

Originally, Cats had been intended as Variations' stable mate, but when this was found to be unworkable, Tell Me On A Sunday was substituted.

At one time, so I am led to believe, it was considered as a curtain-raiser to Cats but this idea was also abandoned.

The two pieces were first performed at the Palace Theatre, in April 1982, with Marti Webb again performing Tell Me On A Sunday, now re-worked and adapted for the stage, and Wayne Sleep and his company performing Variations, under the omnibus title of Song and Dance.

During the run, it was again re-vamped with new songs for Sarah Brightman when she took over in 1984 from Marti Webb.

Further work, including a revision of the lyrics and story line, was undertaken for the 1985 Broadway production of Song and Dance, with Bernadette Peters.

Finally, revised again and brought up to date with a slew of contemporary references and five new songs, Tell Me On A Sunday became a full-length theatrical evening for Denise van Outen in 2003.

This, hopefully, definitive version has come a long way from the original song cycle for Sydmonton.

Now, the girl is a predator who goes to the States looking for men/love but still not finding fulfilment, simply self-deception.

The wistful, rather negative airs of the original, are now underscored by harder and more rhythmic orchestrations and the new songs emphasise the girl's desire to make good sexually. One song in particular - Speed Dating - sets the tone of the evening.

It is now touring with three different ladies, Marti Webb, Patsy Palmer and Faye Tozer taking their turn with the role of the girl.

I had hoped that Marti Webb would be playing Wimbledon, as it would have been wonderful to see how the original singer coped with the rewritten production.

But it was not to be; in her place. we were promised Patsy Palmer. whom I never realised until now could sing.

Certainly, her roles on the television never gave any indication that she was capable of sustaining a singing role of some 90 minutes duration.

Alas, I shall never know the truth, as last night, Miss Palmer was taken ill just before curtain up, and in her place we saw and heard her understudy, Sorelle Marsh, and from then on, all thoughts of Miss Palmer evaporated.

This was the classic cliché - understudy steps in at the last moment and makes good.

From the moment she launched into Take That Look off Your Face, albeit somewhat nervously, one felt the evening was in safe hands.

As it progressed, and she became more assured, there was no question but that this was not an understudy's performance but one she had thought out and made her own.

Time, and one hopes many more performances, will smooth the rough edges, some of her delivery of the point lines could have been sharper, but overall this was a night to remember.

Her voice is strong and was capable of belting out the more raunchy numbers and yet still giving full effect to the more wistful and introspective ones.

I had wondered once or twice during the first half whether it would last the evening, but after the interval she came back confident and in full voice to give the final moments of disillusion and self-doubt maximum effect.

Her singing of the final song of hope for the future, Somewhere, Someplace, Sometime, was radiant and I felt that she was showing the way to adding a new classic to the Lloyd Webber canon with this number.

Whenever I hear it again in the future, I shall associate her with it and remember the pleasure she gave me and her audience last night.

And please the audience she did; sensibly, she was allowed to give an encore and she chose Take That Look Off Your Face, proving how well she could sing it once her initial nerves had been calmed.

Sorelle Marsh, I salute you and hope that you will be allowed to take your place in the ranks of leading ladies where you belong.

Clearly, her success was in some measure due to her director Christopher Luscombe, whose unobtrusive staging, a turntable with some furniture and props, enabled her to take centre stage believably and without effort.

The rest of the settings comprised large, neon-edged panels or screens - designed by Rob Howell and Hugh Valentine - which allowed for projections of her memories and scenes highlighting the action where relevant.

At one particularly bleak moment, the panels disappeared, leaving her hemmed in by brick walls, emphasising her isolation and loneliness, an obvious but nonetheless effective piece of staging.

While, therefore, I did not get specifically what I had gone to Wimbledon to see, I was very pleased with what I saw, and I will tell it for all to hear for many a month of Sundays.

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics, Don Black (additional material by Jackie Clune). Director, Christopher Luscombe; Production Design, Rob Howell; Lighting Design, Hugh Vanstone; Sound Design, Mick Potter; Musical Director, Robert Chalmers.
CAST: Sorelle Marsh, replacing Patsy Palmer.
Produced by Bill Kenwright.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Evenings Mon 22nd - Sat 27th March 2004, 7.30pm. Matinees Thurs.& Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office 0870 060 1827.


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