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Tell Me on a Sunday review at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury – ‘glorious’

Jodie Prenger in Tell Me on a Sunday at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury Photo: Tristram Kenton Jodie Prenger in Tell Me on a Sunday at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury in 2016. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1979 song cycle for a solo woman premiered as a TV musical and was subsequently brought to the stage in 1982 as the first half of a double bill called Song & Dance which did exactly what it said in the title, bolting on a second act dance. Now the song part has become a stand-alone attraction, strangely padded here into a two-act evening again by getting its star Jodie Prenger to offer a Q&A and throwing in a generous appearance by her understudy Jodie Beth Meyer, who joins her for a duet from Evita with Another Suitcase in Another Hall.

Tell Me on a Sunday, which marked Lloyd Webber’s first post-Tim Rice collaboration with lyricist Don Black who would in turn become his single most frequent writing partner, is a unique and still surprising show from a composer who seems to specialise in portraits of thwarted romantic love in the shows that followed, from Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love to even Starlight Express that had one train carriage singing of being U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.

What’s joyous, but also melancholic, about Tell Me on a Sunday is that it is all of a piece, written for the same spirited voice as a lonely British woman seeks love in New York (and briefly LA) and is serially disappointed. She keeps bouncing back, though, ever the optimist, and as played – and beautifully) – sung by Prenger, who first burst to prominence as the winner of the 2008 television contest, I’d Do Anything, she fields a range of variously exhilarating and heartbreaking emotions from hope to heartfelt resignation in such glorious Lloyd Webber melodies as Married Man and Nothing Like You’ve Ever Known.

While Prenger is in the same league of West End powerhouse voices as Louise Dearman and Hannah Waddingham, she also brings a vulnerability to the role that is all her own.

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Effective revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s melancholic mini-musical