Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Tell Me on a Sunday
There's just not that much to talk about, usuallyeven worse, there's a whole convention surrounding one-woman shows: where the sequestration of her emotional life, in a world of thoughtless men, leads a lonely performer into private little trials and triumphs that must all be thrashed-out in an empty room. A lot of these distaff shows aspire to be The Belle Of Amherst, apparently.
In her private moments, this type of character will make her case before her audience. And plays like these typically end with some triumphant little gesture, where our secret heroine finds herself innocent of all the charges of doubt and fear both she and the world have leveled against her.
But not this time.
Sarah Porter is genuinely rousing as Emma, in Don Black and Andrew Lloyd Webber's one-woman show, a show that's been through almost as many changes and cuts than the soul of the character herself. Bernadette Peters starred in an early version on Broadway in 1985, but that wasn't even the first time the girl (heretofore known simply as "the girl") appeared before the public. This newest production's director, Mike Dowdy-Windsor (who's made this show deeply personal and witty and strangely enlightening), says this batch of songs, united by a single, complex character, is what Sir Andrew calls "the definitive version."
The well-known composer is probably right: Ms. Porter has four or five necessary costume changes, and about as many (unseen) lovers through the roughly 70 minute musical. But what makes it definitive is that it's all so psychologically clear and enthralling, full of twists and turns and self-deceptions that we laugh at how deep it all goes, into Emma's dreams, and (often) into her scorn as well. It's like Sex And The City, without the sex; or Bridget Jones' Diary, with more than twice as many lovers. And in lieu of sex (and in lieu of Hugh Grant or Colin Firth), we get a boatload of great songs that take us on one stirring emotional journey after another, thanks to Ms. Porter's searching soul. It's a very fair trade.
Tell Me on a Sunday doesn't require a lot of coy confidences with the audience, unfolding instead through a series of disarmingly revealing letters home, and enthusiastic promises to love, honor, and cherish each new lover. But, perhaps inevitably, nearly half the show is made up of songs about the rocky path of love, and inevitable break-ups too. (Science tells us 50% of all love songs are about break-ups, but Emma seems to be an over-achiever here.)
And yet, there's that stiff upper lip, and frequently dazzling British introspection that keeps her pressing on. You could easily be forgiven for wondering why some people embark on so many impossible romances, but those are clearly the most exciting kinds for the rest of us.
Through August 27, 2016, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. For more information visit www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band
The Artistic Staff