Tell Me on a Sunday, Independence Studio on 3’s newest show, is set for a surprisingly long run of two months, based (I’m guessing) on the assumption that anything written by Andrew Lloyd Webber has drawing power. Despite the fact that the show, directed by Debi Marcucci, is short – barely an hour – with a tiny cast of one singer (Julie Udine) and one accompanist (Ryan Touhey), it feels long. And that’s because all the songs sound alike, and the lyrics (by Don Black) are endlessly repetitive.
If it weren’t so vapid, this musical would be deeply offensive, especially at this moment in the culture’s heightened gender consciousness. Tell Me on a Sunday is the story of a superficial woman (significant that the character is called “Girl” in the program) who comes from England to New York, goes to Hollywood with a producer she falls for, and then, when that world of “capped teeth and Caesar salad” doesn’t work out, moves back to New York. She has only two goals: get a green card and meet the man of her dreams. She seems to have no other interests.
The musical narrative follows her from one unsuitable boyfriend’s bed to the next as each romance ends badly, despite promising, “I’ll be the perfect little lady for you.” Her final song, “You Don’t Know Me,” seems intended (I’m guessing again), to be a hymn to her at-long-last empowerment, but it really just reveals that she doesn’t know herself at all.
The triteness of this hot-pink 1980s world (set designed by Roman Tatarowicz) sometimes seems like a parody, as our heroine changes from one costume to another, pausing each time to write to “Mum” with a fluffy-topped hot-pink pen about her latest flame. This device punctuates the plot, as each letter and each costume signals a new chapter in her love life.
Julia Udine is very pretty and has a voice suited to the songs, but there is no character there, no depth to either the voice or the presentation. The premise of the show invites an obvious comparison to Sondheim’s brilliant and moving song, “Another Hundred People” from Company; they share the themes of loneliness in the big city with desperate hopes unmet. But the comparison only reveals the shallowness of Webber’s dreary little musical.
In the title song, she asks that he (any of the men: the too-young one, the married one, the creepy one) not break up with her in a rage or drunken scene or any of the ways break-ups might happen, but to “tell [her] on a Sunday,” at the zoo. The astounding lyric has “chimpanzees” – give me strength – rhyming with “please.” The wonder of it is that it’s not a laugh line.
Tell Me on a Sunday
Through June 10 at Independence Studio on 3, Walnut St. Theatre, 825 Walnut Street. Tickets: $35-40. Information: 215-574-3550, or walnutstreettheatre.org.