Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black
Directed by David Coddington
Q Theatre, Auckland | November 14-24
Andrew Lloyd Webber is a divisive figure. His musicals are as loved as they are hated. I’m firmly in the ‘love’ camp. Despite a few misfires in recent years, Webber’s musicals have not only been great achievements in spectacle and emotional engagement, but have set the stage for shows like Wicked and Next to Normal to become successful both critically and commercially. His show, Tell Me on a Sunday, with lyrics by Don Black, is on a more intimate scale than his more popular hits, but is no less successful.
Tell Me on a Sunday revolves around a nameless girl (Carly Binding) who has gone to America in chase of her dreams and a green card, and ends up being used and mistreated by various men along the way. She develops from a girl who is determined not to turn into somebody hard and bitter to somebody who engages with the world in a more realistic, jaded way. Whereas most Webber musicals paint on a large canvas, Tell Me on a Sunday is an intimate, incisive portrayal of a woman in a real situation that engages the audience by exploring small details of this woman’s life. It’s a show that really requires a talented performer to not only keep up with the demands of the role, but keep the audience compelled for the entire show.
Carly Binding is one such performer. I’ve never seen her perform live before, but I’ve always been a fan of her music; her voice is strong, but has an easy quality to it that’s pleasant to listen to. Her voice suits the role well; powerful but with a girlish, vulnerable side to it. It’s also surprisingly versatile; she seems to go through her entire vocal range without straining and sounds rich throughout. Beyond this, she’s also an appealing presence and a capable actress. She’s fascinating to watch even when she’s just moving around the stage, and she lends the funnier moments in the play a dark, sardonic wit that suits the character well. Not only is she compelling for the full hour, she makes me wish the show was longer.
The elements surrounding Binding are generally successful too. The set and costumes pop without drawing attention from Binding; the costumes are especially great to look at. The band is lush without overpowering or drawing focus. Less successful is the lighting design. Occasionally it looks pleasant, but there are some odd transitions in the middle of songs that don’t seem to gel with the lyrics or performance, and too often it washes both actress and set out with a bright blue. In what I’m guessing is an attempt to convey night time, it ends up making everything look unpleasant and off-colour. It hardly matters when Binding is so compelling and watchable, but it detracts a little from the show.
Tell Me on a Sunday is the first show I’ve seen from The Real Theatre Company, which says more of how little shows I’ve seen of their output, but it makes me excited to see more from them. They’ve crafted a winning production of an unperformed musical around a compelling performer, which is a huge tick in their column. If you love musicals, see it. If you love Carly Binding, see it. Or just see it anyway—it’s superb.