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Raleigh’s Lauren Kennedy is a Broadway actress who spends her summers at “Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy,” a summer series that plays in the Kennedy Theater, downstairs at the Progress Energy Performance Center in Raleigh. Kennedy, the Producing Artistic Director, and shares the reins with her husband, Managing Director Alan Campbell. But for this season she is also performing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s one-woman tour-de-force Tell Me on a Sunday. Friday’s show was a sell-out, and Kennedy’s stunner of a performance received a standing ovation.
If the show is not familiar to you, this may help: Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote Tell Me on a Sunday as the first of two acts under the title Song and Dance. The second act of this show is a ballet, performed to “Variations on a Theme by Paganini,” which Webber wrote for his brother, Julian, a cellist. But the work is seldom performed as a complete show since Tell Me on a Sunday is compact and produceable on a less-than-grand scale, while a full-scale ballet is not.
Kennedy’s show is backdropped by a video screen, which helps us keep up with changes in scene, letters her character sends home, and the various boyfriends who make up the tally in “Emma’s” romantic misadventures. While Webber wrote the work for a young Cockney Londoner who moves to New York City to make it big, Kennedy plays her instead as a hayseed from North Carolina who makes the same trip, to be with her first misadventure, “Chuck,” a musician. Emma arrives in the Big Apple complete with a thick Southern accent, which all her New York friends call “adorable.” Emma manages to lose her accent pretty quickly, after her second misadventure, Tyler King, flies her out to L.A. to star in films he is producing. “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad” is the musical number that seems to sum up her L.A. adventure, but not before she levels a scathing accusation at King, in “You Made Me Think You Were In Love.”
After she realizes that King is not her white knight, Emma returns to New York, where she meets Joe, a Nebraskan she describes as “Metro-sexual.” Joe turns out to be her longest relationship, eliciting the most songs: “An Unexpected Song,” “Come Back With That Same Look in Your Eyes,” and the central song of the work, “Take That Look Off Your Face,” which reprises several times during the show.
Throughout the work, Kennedy is dead-on, covering a gamut of emotion from scared and vulnerable to confident and defiant. She handles several on-stage costume changes with aplomb, never dropping a note. And her technique is flawless, handling a soft, tender torch song one minute and belting out a showstopper the next.
Interestingly enough, Emma actually gets her first big break on the same night that she breaks up with Paul, her latest fling and a married man. She finishes on a high note with a final rendition of “Take That Look Off Your Face,” indicating that, like her new career, the right man will come along as long as she keeps trying. The final note brought the crowd to its feet, and cheers rang the room for several minutes.
Hot Summer Nights closes this season with another week of Tell Me on a Sunday, but if you wish to see this short but powerful stunner, call right away for reservations. This one is going to sell out.
Tell Me on a Sunday continues through August 29 in Raleigh and then plays in Wilson from September 1-5. For details, see our calendar.