It was first written in 1979. Since then it has been re-written more times than Terry Wogan’s cue card.
It all began when Andrew Lloyd Webber and I met and came up with the idea of writing a one-woman show about a British girl in New York. The piece was called Tell Me On A Sunday and was first unveiled at the Sydmonton Festival in 1979 starring Marti Webb. It was then recorded and the story was expanded. Next it became a television special and so changes were made to make it more visual. We then performed it as a concert in London and again broadened it a little.
After the success of the album and television show various treatments were written in an effort to make it into a full blown musical, none of which we were happy with. Then there was a great interest from Hollywood to do it as a movie. This involved masses of alterations and restructuring. It was almost like starting again. However, it was all to no avail, the movie was never made. I thought that would be the end of it until our original producer Cameron Mackintosh had the idea to put Tell Me On A Sunday on as the first half of a show, the second half being Andrew’s album of Paganini’s Variations which could be danced, hence the title Song and Dance.
It was a good idea, but involved much re-shaping of the material. What was originally intended to be a recording had to be made more theatrical. It was around this time I used to wake up in the night screaming “I want my Mummy!” The show opened and it was very successful. I thought then that the project was finally put to bed until the original star Marti Webb left and was replaced by Gemma Craven. It was explained to me that a few changes here and there would be a good thing as Gemma’s approach is different to Marti’s. Again, the changes were made. Everyone seemed to like the idea of personalising the story to the performer and so changes were made to accommodate each subsequent artist. Lulu was Scottish, Liz Robertson was very English, and so on. Then there was the Australian version! Every production varied with the star or locale. Many’s the time I felt like calling the Red Cross for hot cups of tea and bandages. How many times can you write this story? Apparently quite a few.
We were asked to put together a video version starring Sarah Brightman. This involved major character re-writes as Sarah was much younger than the other girls.
Then I got one of those good news/bad news phone calls. The good news was we were going to do the show on Broadway – the bad news was – lots more re-writes.
Together with Richard Maltby Jr. the piece was revised – in fact it was altered considerably, the wide-eyed girl from Muswell Hill becoming more ambitious and a little too knowing, and although there was a bravura Tony winning performance from the lovely Bernadette Peters, the piece lost a lot of the honesty and heart of the original production.
Andrew and I have now had a good hard and hopefully final look at the piece. The current version is, I think, at last the definitive one, although I do have this recurring nightmare that one day Andrew Lloyd Webber will call me and say, “When Marti Webb leaves the role, how about Lena Horne?”
Don Black, Lyricist. From the original London programme.
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