Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Tell Me On A Sunday Disappoints at Arts West

Danielle Barnum
As revived and rewritten as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tell Me on a Sunday has been since its 1979 inception, it has never really moved beyond being a rather limp curio of a mini-musical. After the likes of Marti Webb, Gemma Craven, Liz Robertson and (the former Mrs. Lloyd Webber) Sarah Brightman played the show in the U.K., a revamped version, with a second act dance suite added (hence the Broadway title Song and Dance) proved a 1985 Tony award winning vehicle for Bernadette Peters, although the show could not sustain in New York, even with the talented Betty Buckley taking over, and it closed.

In what may well be its Seattle premiere, Arts West theatre is showcasing a relatively new face in this taxing solo show: Danielle Barnum as the ambitious fashion designer Emma. Alas, the show needs a star turn, and Ms. Barnum, attractive, appealing and possessing a pleasant voice, is nowhere near a star yet. Certainly Christopher Zinovitch's limp and lifeless direction does her no favors. And the material, with fair to grating Lloyd Webber tunes set to a mixed bag of good, bad and boring lyrics by Don Black and Richard Maltby, Jr., is hardly enough to hold an audience's interest, even for its 80-minute length. Emma arrives in New York City angry and pouty with her first lover Chuck, becomes rather a party girl with Beverly Hills producer beau Sheldon Bloom, then heads back to New York for relationships with Joe and Paul, and finally embraces herself as her career has given her the self-esteem lacking in her relationships. That about covers it, and all the attractive (if overly busy) scenic and video designs furnished by Burton K. Yuen can't mask the hollowness of the show as written.

Barnum's Emma is personable, though her Brit accent wanders in and out, and the actress hasn't developed the vocal dynamics to really make some of the score's best tunes, like "Unexpected Song," really pop, though she handles several of the comic "Letters Home to England" with flair, and sings the title song, despite its painfully trite lyrics, with touching simplicity. It would be great to see her in a role more suited to her skill set, such as Lili in Carnival! or better yet Clara in Light in the Piazza, and she will undoubtedly get such opportunities.

Musical director Deanna Schaffer does solid work as both pianist and conductor, accompanied by an able string trio. A venue as intimate as Arts West shouldn't require amplification for its musicals, though with 80 minutes of solo singing I hardly begrudged Ms. Barnum an assist from a body mike.

Tell Me On A Sunday plays at Arts West through May 23rd. For tickets or information, contact the Arts West Box Office at 206-938-0339 or visit them online at

Photo: Matthew Duham

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.

- David Edward Hughes

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