CHIMPANZEES, trees and a flying trapeze are surely three of the silliest, yet best-known rhymes in recent musical theatre. They have even led to an amusing game with one of my friends, as we create new variants, each ending with “Tell me on a Sunday, please”.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s one act, one woman show was written originally for Marti Webb, and for television, and is perfectly suited to Jodie Prenger, and the Octagon in Yeovil, where Ms Prenger made her professional Pantomime debut in 2004.
The tale of Emma, from Muswell Hill, and her search for love across America, told in 24 songs, became one half of Song and Dance in the 1980s, with the addition of a final Unexpected Song, written to the music of one of Lloyd Webber’s Variations from the Dance part of the show, and grew further in the 1990s with five more songs added, allowing it to stand on its own. This production, by the wonderful Watermill Theatre near Newbury, the same stable as last year’s Calamity Jane, and with the same Musical Supervisor, Catherine Jayes, is pared back to almost the original album and one-act show, restoring the intimacy of the tale.
This show obviously stands or falls based on the casting of Emma, and Jodie Prenger is perfect in the role. So honest is her acting, so genuine her emotions, that we believe she is really living these situations, and actually writing letters to her mother. The lyrics of songs that were pop hits almost 40 years ago suddenly all make sense as we eavesdrop on Emma’s world.
Prenger’s voice is just right for this work – she does not seem to be singing, she is just giving vent to her thoughts and emotions, and either her range is perfectly suited to the music, or it has been arranged to fit, so effortless is her singing. From quiet, contemplative ballads to powerful anthems, her voice remains natural, accurate and true, never forced or contrived.
The second half of the show on tour is a particular treat. Having proved what a convincing character actor and sensitive singer she is Ms Prenger returns to the stage as herself, relaxing with us, recounting a few humorous theatrical tales, taking questions from the audience, and singing a few favourite songs, including the big song Secret Love from Calamity Jane, and a chance for her understudy, Jodie Beth Mayer, to show off her impressive voice in duet on Another Suitcase in Another Hall, before Jodie finished the evening with Unexpected Song.
The singing is accompanied by a tight and very talented musical ensemble under the gentle and sympathetic piano of Francis Goodhand, who coincidentally used to teach music in Liverpool in the late 90s to the same friend with whom I play the Tell Me on a Sunday lyrics game.
This tour has already covered much of the country, but do try and catch it if you can, as it is a delightful evening of pathos, drama, and pure craftsmanship, and look out for anything that comes our way from the wonderful Watermill.