Sarah Porter Is Pure Magic In Andrew Lloyd Webber's TELL ME ON A SUNDAY

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Sarah Porter in New Line Theatre's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, Photo Credit: Jill Ritter-Lindberg/New Line Theatre

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber. I don’t typically enjoy sung-through musicals. I thought EVITA had all of the warmth and depth of Eva Perón’s Wikipedia page, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is a grossly overrated love story with no characters to like much less love, and I’m highly allergic to CATS. There is, however, this one short little gem of Webber’s that is equally funny and heart-wrenching, hopeful and melancholy. The show is called TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, and while I can’t predict what day it is that you find yourself reading this, I can predict that you’ll find this one-woman show as heartfelt and surprisingly affecting as I did.

TELL ME ON A SUNDAY has boasted a pretty incredible collection of leading ladies since the first performance at the Sydmonton Festival in 1979. That first performance featured Marti Webb, who was appearing at the time as an alternate for Elaine Paige in the London production of EVITA. Ms. Webb also handled role of “The Girl” in the West End production a few years later, and was succeeded by the likes of songstress Lulu (Americans would know her best for “To Sir With Love” and the opening credits song for the James Bond film THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.) and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s former wife, the extremely talented Sarah Brightman. The show found its way across the pond to New York, where “The Girl” was renamed “Emma” and was played by Broadway royalty Bernadette Peters, who took home a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in that role. It was revived in 2003 with Denise Van Outen as Emma.

Joining that illustrious list of leading ladies is St. Louis’ own Sarah Porter, who shines in the spotlight in New Line Theatre’s production at The Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center. I’ve enjoyed her in many New Line shows over the years, especially in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE THREEPENNY OPERA and AMERICAN IDIOT. Gifted with beautiful eyes that capture your attention and a smoky voice that can crack wise one moment and make your lower lip quiver with deep emotion the next, Sarah is the perfect choice to play Emma as she owns the stage and the audience’s attention for a little over an hour with no intermission.

Emma is a British gal from a small town in England who is seeking a new life in America. She arrives in New York, meets a guy, and falls in and out of love. She then journeys to Los Angeles to start over with a Hollywood cat, but that relationship doesn’t last either. Back to Manhattan, where Emma meets another guy and falls in and out of love…starting to see a trend? I’m sure you do. Sound familiar? I expect it might, give or take the frequent flyer miles. Unlike, say, PHANTOM, where none of the characters are particularly relatable, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Emma is the “everywoman,” that part of you who yearns for the glitz and glamour of the big city with a dreamboat of a man on your arm, or just a nice guy who doesn’t have to control your every waking moment, living in an overpriced 26th floor apartment on the Lower East Side. For me, Emma represented both former and future girlfriends; laughing and sharing dreams for a few months, compressed into a three minute song, and then gone in a five minute fit over something I may or may not even be aware that I did. Sarah encapsulated those memories, daydreams and expectations perfectly.

Miss Porter is also New Line Theatre’s resident Costume Designer, and she makes several relatively quick changes on the fly during the show. From a hip and fashionable overcoat to a leopard-print swimsuit to a lazy Sunday sweater, she transforms her appearance with each subsequent beau. She frames herself in sections of Rob Lippert’s expertly designed set that helps to provide setting and ambiance for each song. And such songs they are! “Let Me Finish” gets things started with a break-up that sets the bar for what is to come. “First Letter Home” shows a little mirth and little self reflection, while “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad” is a scathing send-up of the phoniness of L.A. The big winner for me was the title track itself—Sarah’s rendition of “Tell Me On A Sunday” stirred up so old memories that made my throat go dry. As I sniffed and swallowed I suddenly became a little self-conscious. I glanced to left where the two lovely ladies seated to me left were sniffling and dabbing their eyes, so I need not have felt ashamed. Sarah Porter and Andrew Lloyd Webber had worked their magic on all of us in attendance.

Directed by Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music director Nate Jackson conducting the always top-notch New Line Band of Eric Bateman on cello, Harrison Rich on reeds, Jake Stergos on bass, the ever-reliable percussion of Clancy Newell and Mr. Jackson himself tickling the ivories, TELL ME ON A SUNDAY is a brisk but brilliant experience that cements Sarah Porter as a hometown star, if she wasn’t already. At 70 minutes long it’s easily one of Webber’s shortest works, but it also doesn’t overstay its welcome as many of his better known musicals do.

I’m telling you right now to plan to see New Line Theatre’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TELL ME ON A SUNDAY as soon as possible. The production runs through August 27, 2016. Please visit www.NewLineTheatre.com for more information. 

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0