I admit it: I've never been fond of Andrew Lloyd Webber. If this is a flaw, I accept responsibility for it and do so without blaming, say, a very early exposure to Starlight Express and a vague memory of dancing onstage in a fur-covered bodysuit. But surely I'm not the only person whose nightmares are scored to "Jellicle Cats" on a ceaseless, disturbing loop.
So it may not have been with an altogether open mind that I approached Egads Theatre's production of Tell Me on a Sunday, one of the composer's less frequently performed shows. The one-act, one-woman song cycle follows Emma, an English hat designer who courts adventure (and a string of wealthy men) in Manhattan.
Kansas City's Shelby Floyd tackles the role with bubbly aplomb. Her London accent is subtle but consistent as she sings through her romantic misadventures with New York men who seem, as she puzzles, so proud to be neurotic. She flounces through trysts with a Queens drummer, a Hollywood producer and a Manhattan executive, with the highs and lows of each relationship told through Webber's earworm hooks and sweeping romanticism. The opening numbers are sugary but fun — "Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad" takes the kind of easy potshots at the Beverly Hills lifestyle that go over well with a Midwestern audience.
Floyd is a powerhouse performer, and her Broadway-grade belting is formidable, even if it's a tool with too much torque for parts of this job. Many of the tunes would benefit from the more nuanced treatment she offers in the wistful opening passages of "Tell Me on a Sunday." The title number is an unmistakable highlight, showcasing her rich resonance and full range.
But you can't take the Webber out of a Webber show, and even Floyd can't prevent a number such as "English Girls" from sounding like a ringtone. The script, by Don Black and Richard Maltby Jr., at times falls similarly flat. Hackneyed sentimentality and creaky jokes ("If they gave Oscars for deceit, you would win," Emma admonishes one of her lovers) remind you why this show usually isn't revived.
But I would happily listen to Floyd sing out the names of every Smith in the phone book (a prospect that might still prove slightly less repetitive than a Webber hook). Her affable mugging and sharp comedic timing keep the energy high, and her parody of a Nebraskan suitor's Midwestern accent earned a big laugh on opening night.
The onstage band gives her a strong assist. Keyboardist and conductor Lenora Remmert masters Webber's tinkling piano lines, and Erik Blume offers skilled accompaniment on both alto sax and flute.
Director Steven Eubank's staging of the multi-interior script makes smart use of Alex Perry's functional, two-level set design. Production assistants Tyler Eisenreich and Bobby Turnbough rip through scene changes like a NASCAR pit crew, and the pacing of the hourlong show never dips as Emma finds love, loses it and loses herself along the way.
Tell Me on a Sunday isn't going to shatter any anti-Webber bias — not mine, anyway. Even with Floyd playing her, Emma comes off as a caricature of a kept woman. But Egads' sensitive production tempers the musical's sexism, and it lets an exceptional young performer shine. Floyd is a remarkable talent. Kansas City would be lucky to hold on to her.