Tell Me on a Sunday is a one-woman song cycle created by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1979 with lyrics by Don Black, and the Avenue Theater is giving the show a meticulous production — but there’s not a lot of payoff for the care that went into the set, the ever-changing video images on the back wall that faithfully reflect the protagonist’s mood and circumstances, the musical direction, or the casting of multi-award-winning Megan Van De Hey in the lead.
The story that unfolds during the roughly hour-long evening is thin: It follows a young woman dubbed Girl — and that’s a bit of a tip-off right there. In some contexts it makes sense to use a generic name like Boy, Girl, Man or Woman to universalize a character, but more often it feels like a lazy affectation, as it does here, because this Girl never comes across as a living, breathing human being, an actual rounded character. She is newly arrived in New York from North London, but we don’t know why she made the move. She has no serious plans for getting a job, no friends that we know of, no skills or ambitions, no identity. She lives to catch a man, someone who’ll love her and help her get her green card — and it won’t hurt if he’s powerful and rich. But, hell, Girl isn’t picky. Over the course of the evening, she goes through four or maybe five possible loves (I got bored tracking and lost count). One is a shallow Hollywood bigwig, one much younger than she is, one married — all of them faithless cardboard cutouts, as vaguely defined as Girl herself. Each new love is greeted with hopeful, happy singing, and the sad, disillusioned songs that follow are so predictable that after a while you’d be a bit disappointed if Girl ended up happily partnered and you missed the next depressing tune.
But then, music is the point of Tell Me on a Sunday. I suspect the songs are difficult to sing; they require fluidity, subtlety and dramatic changes in dynamics, phrasing and pace — all of which Van De Hey’s rich voice is more than capable of supplying. Trent Hines’s accompaniment on a solitary piano is skilled and lively, too. There are a couple of melodious numbers: “Unexpected Song” and the piece that gives the show its title, “Tell Me on a Sunday.” There’s also the angry song most people remember from this musical, “Take That Look Off Your Face.” Periodically, a mildly amusing lyric surfaces, but the jabs at Hollywood in “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad,” the Englishwoman’s amazement at the constant repetition of “Have a nice day,” and her longing for a cold drink that doesn’t contain ice cubes – these quips seem dated and feeble. For much of the evening, the music sounds as undifferentiated as the protagonist.
It may be impossible for any actor to make Girl feel real, and in a way, Van De Hey’s strengths as a performer become weaknesses in this context. Perhaps if Girl were warmer, more vulnerable and openly confused, she would evoke empathy. As it is, you find yourself continually wondering why someone as poised, strong, intelligent and smoothly professional as Van De Hey seems can be such a ninny about men, and why she can’t make a life for herself in New York or even figure out how to get a green card.
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Tell Me on a Sunday, presented by Avenue Theater through February 27, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, avenuetheater.com.