Saturday, March 12, 2016


at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
for The Reviews Hub

The nation's favourite Nancy, Jodie Prenger, brings her considerable vocal and dramatic talents to the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber song cycle, first developed in the late seventies, and appearing in many guises since, including the successful West End double bill Song and Dance.
Paul Foster's staging makes the show very much a drama, a series of monologues tracking British emigrant Emma as she tries to make it in the States, writing home to her mum about the men in her life and her efforts to get that elusive Green Card.
The twenty-five numbers seem to follow the playlist of the 2010 tour, though Unexpected Song is kept for the final encore in the second half of the evening.
The setting is simple: a model Manhattan skyline obscures Peter McCarthy's excellent little orchestra. In front of it, seventies furniture and props suggesting her New York apartment.
Prenger inhabits the character very convincingly – her accent switches from Manhattan to Mancunian as she writes her letters home to Mum, her costume changes reflect her switchback love life. - “Why are all affairs so unfair ?”. Her bitchy friends and her boyfriends – too old, too young, too married – are unseen but very present in a tightly clutched cushion, an empty easy chair.
Her last, tearful missive is followed by a reprise of Take That Look Off Your Face and the ultimately life-affirming Dreams Never Run On Time.
An impressively crafted hour of musical theatre, and if not all the songs are as memorable as the title number, they are all performed with style and emotional investment, Don Black's lyrics crystal clear to the last word.
How to follow Tell Me On A Sunday ?  No Wayne Sleep Variations, alas, but “more words and music” from Miss Prenger, with McCarthy at the grand piano. Secret Love to start – her last tour out of The Watermill was Calamity Jane – before “Ask Me On A Sunday”, with questions from the capacity crowd. “How do you remember all the lyrics ?” (She writes them out on a notepad.) “Will you be working with Barrowman again ?” (Nothing planned, alas.) “What got you into musical theatre ?” (Summer shows, pubs and clubs in her native Blackpool.)
Then, in a lovely gesture, she brings on Jodie Beth Meyer, who's touring with the six-foot skyscrapers and the band as Prenger's understudy, and they duet memorably in Another Suitcase, Another Hall, before the show closes with Unexpected Song.

production photograph by Tristram Kenton

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