Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s artistic director and producer Lauren Kennedy finally steps in front of the footlights for TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, the fourth and final production of the theater’s sizzling 2010 summer season, and, oh boy, was it worth the wait. The red-hot Raleigh, NC native with the big Broadway voice gives the homefolks their money’s-worth and then some with a tour de force performance as the colossally unlucky-in-love aspiring actress Emma in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s one-woman show — think “Sex and the City,” circa 2003 (when original 1979 one-act song cycle underwent its most extreme makeover since it premiered at the Sydmonton Festival, held on Lloyd Webber’s Hampshire estate).
Lauren Kennedy can caress a lyric until it purrs like a six-week-old kitten or pump up the volume until her voice rattles the Kennedy Theater rafters. Indeed, her vivacious versions of “Take That Look Off Your Face,” “Unexpected Song,” and “Tell Me on a Sunday” earned lengthy applause and whoops of joy on Wednesday, during her warmly applauded hour-long opening-night performance, which ended with a fervent standing ovation for Kennedy and her effervescent accompanists: musical director Julie Florin (piano), Drew Lile (guitar), John Simonetti (bass), Les Webster (percussion), and Joan Beck (violin).
Misses Florin and Beck and Messrs. Lile and Simonetti rock steady all night long, and are a powerful wind beneath Lauren Kennedy’s sonic wings. Kennedy has always had a fine flair for comedy, but TELL ME ON A SUNDAY gives her a chance to showcase her serious side as Emma moves from the hinterlands to the Big Apple to live with her boyfriend Chuck, a bass player from Queens who — on her very first night in New York City — leaves her home alone in his apartment until 3 a.m., fielding calls from a gaggle of groupies who somehow have the Chuckster’s home number.
After Emma kicks that bad boy to the curb and goes to live with her best friend Viv, she embarks on an exciting fling with a Hollywood film producer, who whisks her to Los Angeles, checks her into a swanky hotel, and then does a disappearing act. After Emma returns to New York, she hooks up with a sweet Nebraska boy named Joe, a seemingly simple, honest soul who turns out to be another Mr. Wrong. Then she embarks on a casual fling with a married man named Paul, knowing that he has a wife and four kids in Westport, CT. But then Paul gets serious, and there is H-E-L-L to pay.
Hot Summer Nights’ marvelous multimedia version of TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, concocted by guest director Matthew-Jason Willis, star and projection designer Lauren Kennedy, and projection coordinator Will Mikes, is a real crowd-pleaser, which utilizes an overhead projection screen and a choice selection of snapshots and video clips to chronicle Emma’s journey from the sticks of Eastern North Carolina to New York City, then on to Los Angeles, and finally back to the City That Never Sleeps. The video projections and selected props also help indicate the passage of time as the road to true romance gets rockier and rockier for Emma.
Set and lighting designer Chris Bernier, costume designers Matthew-Jason Willis and Lauren Kennedy, properties manager Leanne Norton Heintz, and sound designer Brian L. Hunt also help make TELL ME ON A SUNDAY a stellar production, but it is Kennedy that provides the candle-power and Willis who creates an exquisite setting where she can shine brightest while wowing the audience with the defiant “Take That Look Off Your Face” and “Let Me Finish,” the snarky “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad” putdown of the most obnoxious Californicators, the bouncy sardonic “You Made Me Think You Were in Love,” the wistful heart-tugger “Unexpected Song,” the foolishly optimistic “Come Back with the Same Look in Your Eyes,” the unrepentant “Married Man,” and the heartbreak anthem “Tell Me on a Sunday.”
TELL ME ON A SUNDAY continues Aug. 20-22 and 25-29 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC, and also runs Sept. 1-5 in the Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre at Barton College in Wilson. Don’t miss it.
NOTE: There will be a special $100-per-person benefit performance, with proceeds going to the Raleigh-based the environmental nonprofit group NC Beautiful (http://www.ncbeautiful.org/), on Friday, Aug. 27th, with a reception starting at 7 p.m., followed by an 8 p.m. show. To reserve tickets, call Louise Carey or Aimee Zehren at 919/828-3190. (For details about this benefit performance, see http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/08/broadway’s-lauren-kennedy-to-perform-one-woman-musical-to-benefit-nc-beautiful-aug-27/.)
SECOND OPINION: August 19th Raleigh, NC NEWS & OBSERVER review by Roy C. Dicks:
http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/08/19/636349/kennedy-adds-warmth-to-tell-me.html. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 17th TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/08/lauren-kennedy-stars-in-tell-me-on-a-sunday-andrew-lloyd-webbers-one-act-song-cycle/.)
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, starring Lauren Kennedy, at 8 p.m. Aug. 20, 7 p.m. Aug. 21, 3 p.m. Aug. 22, 8 p.m. Aug. 25-28, and 3 p.m. Aug. 29 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601; and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1, 8 p.m. Sept. 2-4, and 3 p.m. Sept. 5 in the Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre at Barton College, 700 Vance St. NE, Wilson, North Carolina 27893.
TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors).
BOX OFFICE: 866/811-4111 or https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/27655 (Raleigh) or https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/30005 (Wilson).
VENUES: Raleigh: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/. Wilson: http://www.barton.edu/theatre/. PARKING/DIRECTIONS: Raleigh: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/. Wilson: http://www.barton.edu/theatre/.
The Musical: http://www.reallyuseful.com/shows/tell-me-on-a-sunday (official website), http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/shows/tell-me-on-a-sunday (Andrew Lloyd Webber), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=12073 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0434388/ (Internet Movie Database).
Andrew Lloyd Webber: http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/ (official website) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0515908/ (Internet Movie Database).
Lauren Kennedy: http://www.laurenkennedy.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=70340 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0448171/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.