It takes a lot of stage presence to command a stage solo for more than an hour. And that’s exactly what Leah Berst does in Tell Me on a Sunday, onstage now at MusicalFare Theatre.
Berst has the power (and the chops) to sing her way through this Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black one-woman song cycle. They wrote it in 1979, post Webber’s Evita, and the original plan was for it to be a TV program. Perhaps Sir Webber was still Rainbow High-weary; outside of the title song and the familiar tune “An Unexpected Song,” the melodies are Webber-predictable and the story is fairly flat.
That’s not to say that Berst isn’t commanding and outstanding on stage: she’s fantastic. It’s the script that doesn’t rise to her level, sadly.
In brief, Berst’s unnamed character leaves her home in the UK for New York City and love. That love fails, so it’s on to someone new. And then someone new and younger And then someone in California.. And then someone new and married. In between, she’s emailing her mum, getting angry at girlfriends, endeavoring to earn her green card, while remaining a hopeful romantic.
There are some fun moments. The repetitive “It’s Not the End of the World” (If I Lose Him, If He’s Younger, If He’s Married) is clever. Berst pours her heart into “Come Back With The Same Look in Your Eyes” and it’s lovely. Her self-righteous anger in “Let Me Finish” is classic break up material. She maintains her optimism with “Dreams Never Run On Time.” Le sigh…
Therese Quinn assembled a fine back up band, with Larry Albert on guitar, Jim Celeste on drums, Mike Moser on bass, Jim Runfola on woodwinds, and Gail Bauser playing cello which is absolutely lovely against Berst’s high range voice. Chris Cavanagh’s set is eye appealing and he uses some fun videos that help move the flimsy story along. It was fun to see other actors in video cameos, almost like a “Where’s Waldo of Buffalo Theatre.”
What I appreciate best about this show is its brevity: an hour and 10 minutes with no intermission. If COVID did one good thing for theatre, it’s the new emphasis on shorter productions. The Theatre Companion and I arrived early enough to enjoy good conversation in the Cabaret and lingered a few minutes post-show to enjoy Quinn and Randy Kramer getting four hands on the piano. It’s always great fun at MusicalFare.
I’m no fan of digital programs (I know…it saves money, it is contact-less, more to read on your own time…I get it), but I do love MusicalFare’s super creative use of the in-theatre video monitors before the program. Nell Mohn, Director of Strategic Development, was informative and entertaining in her video which explained the valueand need for fundraising. As a recovering fundraiser, I love and respect her enthusiasm for this challenging work.
Tell Me on a Sunday runs to March 19: visit musicalfare.com for tickets and details.