One of Andrew Lloyd Webber's lesser known works is brought to vibrant life at the intimate Obsidian Art Space, with Rachel Landon as the sole performer.
The storyline is simple: girl finds boy, loses boy. Girl (now a woman) finds man, loses man. Same woman finds man, gives up man (they are cads, aren't they?). Same woman finds another man -- but, wait! he's married...you'll have to see it to find out the rest.
Not your usual plot for a musical, but this is no ordinary musical. It chronicles the peregrinations of a British lass seeking her fortune in the States, and that future must include, naturally enough, love. Her name is Emma, and she is talented and attractive, with a classic oval face and a great stage presence. She's spunky, but she is no great judge of men. The good news is that she is not alone in that, and many women will identify with Emma.
The story is told through the lyrics, which are by Don Black and Richard Maltby, and they tell the story while Webber's music supplies the emotion. Additional emotional power, of course, must come from the sole singer -- this is a huge responsibility, perhaps not even a fair one, for this is a K-2 of a role. Rachel Landon, fortunately for us, is more than up to the task.
Great singers are often great actors as well (Barbara Cook fans will testify to that), and Landon has the expressiveness and range to carry us with her on her journey, and to make us care for Emma. At times, she reminded me of a younger Liza -- I'd love to see Landon as Sally Bowles in Cabaret -- and at other moments she had the appeal of Julie Andrews, with her capacity to invite you in to share her life. But Landon's persona is her own, and a strong one, and she comes across as nobody's fool -- except, of course, in matters of the heart.
Her voice can caress, or damn, as needed, and there is an undercurrent of reserved power that generates its own interest. Her diction is impeccable, no small thing in itself, as so many Houston stages seem to have no acquaintance with acoustical engineering. She is a performer to be enjoyed, and followed.
The songs? I was touched by "First Letter Home," because the lyrics here were wittier than the others, and because of Landon's interpretation -- if she didn't have me at "hello," she landed me here. "An Unexpected Song" had some originality and an appealing freshness, as did "Come Back with the Same Look in Your Eyes." I loved the driving force and in-your-face attitude of "Let Me Finish." I know that "Take That Look Off Your Face" was a huge UK hit, but its charms elude me. Though this is a one-act play (it has one intermission), it has much more plot than many a full-length musical, but the plot is repetitious and clearly one-sided, like those romance novels with Fabio on the cover.
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The band (William Michael Luyties on the keyboard, Luis Navarrete on percussion, and James Hyatt and Ty Laramore on guitar) is excellent, though it tended to drown out the singer for the opening number -- a matter of balance, not talent. There were some lighting flubs, but the important one was remedied during the intermission. The simple but effective set served as various living rooms and bedrooms. Landon directed as well, and she changed costumes and her hairstyle several times, moving from one point to another for different songs to add variety. I would rather have seen her alone in a black evening gown, possibly with a painting or a projected image of each man, confined to a single spot. I think Landon could have carried that off; I know Barbara Cook could.
A young singer/actor, Rachel Landon, meets the challenge of a one-woman solo musical role and comes out a winner. Her engaging, powerful performance breathes life into a soap-opera plot and provides a fascinating evening of a rarely seen musical curiosity.
Tell Me on a Sunday, from SRO Productions, continues through July 7 at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Dr. For information or ticketing, call 713-300-2358 or contact www.sro-productions.com.