- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

Andrew Lloyd Webber, meet Bridget Jones.
The famed Broadway composer couldn't have had the fictional British darling in mind when his "Tell Me on a Sunday" debuted in 1979.
Experiencing the latest "Sunday" production, running through Jan. 12 at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, can't help conjuring that addled heroine.
Emma, the sole character of this one-woman affair, bears the same dependency on undependable men and slightly fleshy frame as Jones.
Only Mr. Webber's knack for arresting songs and a vivacious performer such as star Alice Ripley separate the two.
Miss Ripley, a familiar Broadway talent with a Tony nomination for 1998's "SideShow," brings so much panache to the role that it makes us forget how marginalized Emma is.
Her character is, in turns, sexy, noble, pathetic and unkind, sometimes all in one number.
"Sunday" checks in at about 70 minutes, an abbreviated running time to match its slim intentions.
In the mid-'80s, the musical hit Broadway as an expanded showcase, dubbed "Song and Dance."
Back in its original state, "Sunday" isn't likely to inspire future tweaking.
We watch Miss Ripley's Emma step off a plane onto the bustling streets of New York City, hoping a character is born.
Alas, Emma's songs reveal a feminist's nightmare, a woman who lives and breathes for men. It doesn't help that she keeps picking the wrong ones. By the second song, Emma has dumped the first of many suitors.
The lyrics, by Don Black ("Sunset Boulevard"), briefly sketch out a promising career as a hat designer, but even when her creations take off she prefers to find solace in the arms of unworthy men.
From "Take That Look Off Your Face" to "Nothing Like You've Ever Known," Miss Ripley sings with clarity, enunciating well enough for the uninitiated to follow the plot without shedding her British accent. Given that all the dialogue comes in the form of song, that quality is to be applauded.
One of her lovers is a short, unattractive producer charmed by her accent, which gives Miss Ripley an excuse to wriggle her away around the tart "English Girls" number.
"Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad" opens with a sneaky bass line, then segues into Emma imploring us to understand the producer's true, salacious nature.
As kiss-off songs go, it's a doozy.
The production offers up such modern flourishes as cell phones and portable computers, but the background lacks the warmth Miss Ripley generates.
The mobile sets by Edward Pierce seem sterile and kitschy is that an Ikea chair in one apartment setting? The stage's gleaming, gliding ornaments provide little reason to take our eyes from the emotional cartwheels Miss Ripley performs.
The performer understands all eyes are upon her, and she gooses up the proceedings by overacting in tiny, judicious increments. The actress is constantly moving, preening and smiling, all without sinking into melodrama.
Meanwhile, the musical's several reprises add texture to the overall work.
The title song wavers toward the pathetic, as Emma sings, "let me down easy, no big song and dance." Still, it's a supple ballad expertly delivered.
Other songs take the form of letters to Emma's mother. At one point, Emma pleads for mother not to judge too harshly her decision to bed a married man and father of four.
"I know you don't approve, Mum, but I really must have someone," she sings, as if such moral relativism should provide some cheer.
Lyrically, Mr. Black's work veers from bland observations to simple, stark musings, like the New York waiters who tell patrons to "enjoy" in the thickest accent imaginable.
Miss Ripley is an assured singer in no rush to impress she simply does so by default. Her vocal range brings an intensity to Emma that isn't found on the lyric sheets.
No matter how appealing Miss Ripley is, nor how delightful a song or two may be, the overall impression this "Sunday" leaves is that both creator and star are better suited elsewhere.

** 1/2
WHAT: Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Tell Me on a Sunday"
WHERE: The Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater
WHEN: Through Jan. 12. Call for show times 202/467-4600.
TICKETS: $20 to $90

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