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Tell Me on a Sunday (St. James Theatre)

Marti Webb makes a triumphant return to the role that was written for her by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Marti Webb
© Mike Eddowes

You must be mistaken. It couldn't have been 35 years ago that Marti Webb first sang Tell Me On A Sunday; but no, the calendar never lies.

Those of us old enough to remember the original TV performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's one-woman show, with its blistering lyrics by Don Black, must be wondering where our intervening lives went – just as the show's unnamed heroine does when the years go by and relationship after hopeful relationship falls apart.

Performed as originally written (or as near as dammit, for I doubt whether any musical in history exists in so many variants), TMOAS remains the most truthful show the good Lord has given us. Stripped back to a bare hour of straight-to-audience delivery, it's the chronicle of an idealistic young woman who moves to New York in search of a new life and maybe the chance to fall in love. Gradually, and with minimal pizzazz, her dreams crumble.

The extended version of Tell Me on a Sunday that Lloyd Webber and Black prepared for Denise Van Outen a decade ago was updated and coarsened in a way that diluted the original show's simplicity and diminished its emotional impact, so it is a special treat see and hear its dedicatee restore the factory settings. I neither know nor care Marti Webb's current age; in the role she created three and a half decades ago she's still the naïve young woman who stands alone before us, learning life's lessons the hard way, abetted by nothing but a handful of props and Simon Lee's immaculate seven-piece band.

Webb's unadorned delivery of the title song, "Tell Me on a Sunday", is inexpressibly moving. (Something in my eye? You bet.) Happily, too, another fine original number, "The Last Man In My Life", has been reintroduced to the show while "Unexpected Song", the number that usurped it when TMOAS reached the Palace Theatre as half of Song and Dance, is held back as an encore. Here's hoping that this version can now become definitive – that Lloyd Webber and Black will leave it alone and allow their period piece to speak with its own voice.

The evening is padded out with a random selection of show tunes, well performed by Tess Kadler and Michael Colbourne and illustrated by some pleasant ballet embellishment by Amelia Jackson and John O'Gara. A quartet of numbers from Don Black and Frank Wildhorn's forthcomng Bonnie and Clyde are rather shown up by two terrific selections from Urinetown, coming soon to the St James, and by "Falling Slowly", the insistent hit from Once. But who remembers the trailers when the main feature is such a blinder?

- Tell Me On A Sunday plays at the St. James Theatre until 12 January. It will transfer to the Duchess Theatre on 13 February for a two-week run.