“Jodie Beth Meyer steps up and her performance does not disappoint”
It is forty years since Marti Webb sang Tell Me on a Sunday as a TV special before the piece reached the stage as one half of Song and Dance, described then by its composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Don Black as ‘a concert for the theatre’. The work has undergone several revisions since then but is still essentially a short one-woman song cycle, the length of an LP album. The current tour usually exploits the TV popularity of singer Jodie Prenger by including a Q and A session with added musical surprises as a second half, but this performance axes this due to the indisposition of the star.
The gauze curtain, superimposed with a New York skyline, lifts to reveal a very basic 1980s apartment and behind it a row of illuminated miniature model buildings – Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Twin Towers (Designer David Woodhead). Emma enters in wedge sandals and a denim jacket. She is an unassuming girl from Muswell Hill living in New York seeking a husband and a green card. And that’s the plot, as she proceeds to sing us the story of her series of boyfriends and their inevitable breakups.
With advertised singer Jodie Prenger unavailable, understudy Jodie Beth Meyer steps up and her performance does not disappoint. The opening number Take That Look Off Your Face immediately wins over this audience and sets the standard for the evening. With her eyes twinkling and a smile upon her lips every lyric of every song is crystal clear, Jodie’s enunciation impeccable. Aided by amplification, she does not need to push her voice – this is not opera – and her style is understated rather than projected. Her high register rings out pure and glorious, a delight to listen to. The wide range required in some numbers, though – It’s Not the End of the World (if I Lose Him / he’s Younger / he’s Married), shows up some weakness at the lower end of this singer’s register.
A five-piece onstage band (Musical Director Francis Goodhand) – keys, reeds, cello, bass & drumkit – partly obscured behind the model New York skyline, provides the orchestration. Sounding a little thin at times they may have benefitted from some support from the mixing desk, but it is delightful nonetheless for this music to be performed live.
Director Paul Foster moves Emma naturally around the small set, sometimes seated, sometimes not. She goes off stage between some numbers to reappear in a change of costume. There are numerous props for her to handle – a handbag to rummage in, a floppy hat (with an unintended problematic brim), letters to read and write, a bottle of whisky. On occasions, this incessant fiddling is all rather too busy and some further static moments would have been beneficial.
The four Letters Home to England document the character’s advances in her life and provide some humorous moments much enjoyed by this audience. Other highlights in Jodie’s performance are the sensuousness she shows within The Last Man in My Life and some deliciously sleazy movement in Sheldon Bloom. Both could have been pushed further, along with some greater show of anger in Let Me Finish and Let’s Talk About You. The title song is the standout song of the evening and Jodie smashes it, sobbing through the lyrics whilst maintaining beautiful musicality.
If the largeish audience is disappointed that the intended Jodie is not available, they do not show it and after this short one-half of an evening would happily have welcomed the replacement Jodie back onto the stage for more of the same.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Tristram Kenton
Tell me on a Sunday
Cambridge Arts Theatre until 2nd October then UK tour continues
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” has been under close scrutiny for some time now. This is in part due to Webber’s vocal stance against the government’s alleged failure to support the Arts during the pandemic. “The government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on…” he is quoted as saying while rejecting the government’s invitation for “Cinderella” to be singled out as a last-minute part of the Events Research Program. Finally due to open on July 19th, the so-called ‘Freedom Day’, it ran a series of previews before the theatre went dark again for another month. So, long before Cinderella managed to get to the ball, the spotlight was on her every glass-slippered step. It has been a perilous journey, weighed down further by the show unwittingly becoming a litmus test for the recovery of the West End.
Eventually, though, the fairy tale dream comes true. And, in short, it is a true dream. Emerald Fennell’s book turns our concept of the Cinderella myth on its head. For a start Prince Charming has gone awol, presumed dead, and left in his place is the younger brother; Prince Sebastian – as much of a misfit as Cinderella herself. We are in Belleville, the most fairy-tale town that never existed. Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Cinderella is a ragged, rebel Goth in black lipstick. Only when in her company can Sebastian shake off his Royal mantle and truly be himself. To his dismay (and Cinderella’s unspoken concern) his mother has decided to arrange a Royal Wedding for him, purely to boost the town’s reputation. But his heart is set on Cinderella. It is not so much a will-they-won’t-they story, as we kind of know they will in the end. But that doesn’t matter – the story delivers more delightful twists on the way before the final corkscrew that pops the cork, and we can all bathe in the bubbles of joy that wash over us.
It’s a crazy makeover for the familiar story, adorned with David Zippel’s sparkling lyrics and, of course, a score that is well and truly back on form. Filled with a range of emotions and styles it swoons with strings and dips into ballads, taking many other genres under its wing. Leitmotifs and reprises float like feathers which, though intricate, are easily within our grasp and before we know it, we have made them our own. The eyes have as much of a feast as the ears. Gabriela Tylesova’s design, Bruno Poet’s lighting, with JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography and director Laurence Conner’s staging thrust the show into the sovereign state of spectacle. And although the title suggests an out of season pantomime, this is far from it. The stunning leading cast, whilst enjoying the caricatures written for them, shape them into fully formed, loveable characters. The baddies and goodies alike.
The ugly sisters are beautiful. But marvellously dippy. Georgina Castle and Laura Baldwin play the comedy of the sibling rivalry to perfection. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s star turn as the stepmother accentuates the 1980s slang meaning of ‘wicked’. Insanely wonderful and cool she needs no spotlight to let her presence shine across the stage. Rebecca Trehearn’s Queen ransacks the ‘Blackadder’ archives but with so much more nuance and light and shade. Hamilton-Barritt and Trehearn make a dynamic duo, particularly during their show-stopping highlight number, ‘I Know You’ that reveals their seedy pasts in Paris.
The central pair, of course, is Cinderella and Prince Sebastian. Hope Fletcher’s gorgeous, soaring vocals reach the heightened emotions, yet she can slip into character in a beat. The star player, her generosity never pulls focus from her co actors. Sebastian was played sublimely, for this particular performance, by understudy Michael Hamway. His solo show stealing, heart stopping ‘Only You, Lonely You’ drew possibly the longest ovation of the evening. Watch out for the name!
Andrew Lloyd Webber has had his detractors and has often had to weather the storms of his risk taking. Rewriting such a beloved tale such as “Cinderella” is another risk. But boy – it has paid off! It was a long time coming but it’s a ball. Everyone is invited – and everyone should go to it. I’d say be quick about it, but there’s a feeling that this show will be around for quite some time.