Wednesday 28 June 2017

A dramatic song cycle of love and strife

Singer Jodie Prenger brings acting and comic talent to Lloyd Webber and Don Black's 'Tell Me on a Sunday'

Jodie Prenger stars in the one-woman show ‘Tell Me on a Sunday’ this May.
Jodie Prenger stars in the one-woman show ‘Tell Me on a Sunday’ this May.

Anne Marie Scanlon

One of the reasons that Tell Me on a Sunday has always been such a well-loved and well-received show is probably because, unlike many musicals, there is no clunky exposition to move the plot along. In this one-woman show, each song tells a story and, cumulatively, they tell Emma's story. As singer Jodie Prenger says, "Don Black is just so amazingly, gigantically talented at producing these lyrics. It's like reading a script, it's all there."

The show revolves around Emma (Prenger), an ordinary English girl living in New York and her unrelenting search for love. When it was first written in the 1980s it was considered very modern, and, while some things remain the same, (the monstrous size of New York sandwiches, for example), society in general has changed so it's more of a period piece now.

Prenger hits the ground running, belting out the well-known Take That Look Off Your Face. After this rousing start the pace doesn't let up until the very end. Carrying a one-woman show, especially one where the mood shifts dramatically from song to song (misery, elation, whimsy, sarcasm, yearning, delusion) isn't an easy task for any actress or singer, but Prenger makes it look easy. Her singing more than does justice to both music and lyrics (by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black) but her acting ability is really what makes her so enjoyable to watch.

After being cheated on, Emma bounces back with new love interest, Sheldon Bloom. She's determined to make the relationship work, listing all the ways she's going to change to be a "perfect little lady for you". She moves to Hollywood to live with Sheldon in his "pink palace" and Don Black's lyrics are hysterical as he sends up the LA lifestyle, where "they've eaten nothing fried since Elvis Presley died" in Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad. Hollywood was apparently as shallow and faddy in the 1980s as it is now.

Emma is clear-sighted in her goals. She wants love, marriage and a Green Card and is determined a man will provide her with all three. Unsurprisingly, Emma's romance with the Hollywood producer, who lives in a house called La Bohème, doesn't work out.

Back in New York, Emma settles for a much younger man. When that relationship fails she begins an affair with a married man - the reverse of her situation at the start of the show. Many of the previous themes are reprised here, and in this instance Emma is prepared to do almost anything to be the "perfect little mistress for you".

The only problem with Tell Me on a Sunday is that, despite Prenger's comic, acting and singing talents and her ability to make the audience laugh one minute and cry the next, she is such a vital force that it's hard to reconcile her to the man-dependent Emma. However, as Tell Me on a Sunday was originally designed as a one-act song cycle rather than a traditional musical, audiences will get to meet the real Prenger in the second half of the evening, when she will do a Q&A with the audience and perform numbers such as fan favourite The Black Hills of Dakota from Calamity Jane and Unexpected Song, which was part of the original production of Tell Me on a Sunday.

Prenger exudes good humour and can't wait to get to Ireland. "I love Dublin and my family are from Sligo." The singer is funny and entertaining and has no 'notions'. Speaking about Emma, she says she identifies with her struggles: "God yeah, the men I've been through," she says, laughing. If you want more details you can ask her yourself when Tell Me on A Sunday plays at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, May 1 to 3.

Tickets from €20 are available now through Ticketmaster. See www. bordgaisenergytheatre.ie for more.

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