Late last year, Blazey Best and Erin Clare performed alongside each other in the Hayes Theatre Co’s award-winning production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Directed by Dean Bryant, Best played the central role of Desiree Armfeldt, with Clare as Charlotte, the wife of Desiree’s egotistical lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm.

Now, both are back at the Hayes, but this time with Best directing Clare in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me On A Sunday.

Erin Clare

Erin Clare will star in Tell Me On A Sunday at the Hayes Theatre Co. Photo supplied

The 70-minute one-woman song cycle, with lyrics by Don Black (who co-wrote the book and lyrics for Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard) follows the fortunes of a newly single English girl who moves to New York looking for a fresh start and love, only to be let down by three faithless men.

As well as the title track, it includes numbers such as Take That Look Off Your Face, Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad and It’s Not the End of the World.

Tell Me On A Sunday was first performed by Marti Webb at the 1979 Sydmonton Festival, held on the grounds of Lloyd Webber’s Hampshire country estate. In 1980, an album was released and a TV special starring Webb was filmed live at the Royalty Theatre.

Webb subsequently starred when the show opened in the West End in 1982 as part of a double bill called Song and Dance. In 1984, Sarah Brightman gave a special performance, which was filmed and broadcast on TV.

Bernadette Peters featured in the 1985 Broadway production, while Denise Van Outen played the girl when Tell Me On A Sunday was expanded into a standalone piece in the West End in 2003.

In Australia, Gaye MacFarlane featured when Song and Dance was staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne in 1983, while Jolene Anderson took on the role when Kookaburra presented Tell Me On A Sunday in 2008.

Chatting to Limelight, Clare and Best admit that neither of them knew the show particularly well when they were approached by producer Michelle Guthrie, but are enjoying exploring it together.

Clare, who recently played Doralee in 9 to 5 The Musical, wasn’t born when it premiered. One of the first things she did when offered the role was listen to the cast album and watch the 1980 TV special on YouTube.

“It was interesting because the jazzy, experimental sections make sense when you watch it from an ’80s lens,” she says.

Describing the show as “a journey through a young woman’s fears, rage, lust, joy and ultimate self-discovery, decades before television brought us Sex and the City and Fleabag,” Best remembers Tell Me On A Sunday making waves in the 1980s.

“But I was a bit too young to really get it. I’ve since heard it referred to again and again. It’s clearly a cultural touchstone in music theatre, so it’s really interesting to revisit it.”

A Little Night Music

Blazey Best (centre) and Erin Clare (second let) in the cast of A Little Night Music, Hayes Theatre Co, 2023. Photo © John McCrae

Clare had already been cast in Tell Me On A Sunday when she did A Little Night Music, so Best was fascinated to watch her performance as Countess Charlotte from a director’s point of view.

“I thought, ‘OK, I get to have a little look at her toolkit.’ It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know her as a person, but also as a performer, and to see her wit and sharp comedic skills. You add her voice on top of that – and in Tell Me On A Sunday, the songs cover a broad range,” says Best.

“It’s quite an interesting score, because some [numbers] feel very poppy, then there are moments that feel very musical theatre like Let Me Finish, and others that feel really quite challenging musically.”

“It’s no secret that Andrew Lloyd Webber loves to write things in very difficult time signatures,” says Clare.

“That’s been an extra challenge as an actor to justify how much is written in 5/8, and make that as natural as possible, because your natural inclination is not to count in five when you’re singing, it’s definitely to count in four. Then there are the Burt Bacharach-esque, loungey, jazzy love ballads that are so lovely you get lost in the music. There are also some hectic recit sections, which are very difficult musically. It’s going to be really pleasant on the ears and then really complicated at times.”

Though the 2003 West End production was updated to the present day, Best is retaining the 1980s setting.

“I feel like you do that kind of thing at your peril,” she says of updating.

“I feel it’s significant that it was written in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I was reflecting the other day that it’s only within my lifetime that my mum was able to go and apply for a bank account without a note from her dad or her husband. So in the late ’70s and the early 80s, finding yourself a man was, I think, still a goal of young women. And I love the aesthetic look of the 1970s.”

Working with set and costume designer Ella Butler, Best has decided not to use a naturalistic set.

“I want to honour the fact that it is still a presentational form like the original Marti Webb TV special. There probably could be a version where you had a kitchen sink, a couch and a bed, but I want [the production] to be able to move through time and I want it to be able to go to a psychological space. I think we’ve struck a really good balance. It’s a beautiful design.”

Clare has performed cabaret shows before but says that Tell Me On A Sunday takes the challenge of performing solo to another level.

“I’m excited, intimidated … I’m experiencing a gamut of emotions about the show,” she says.

Best is more than confident that Clare has what it takes, and is excited that her “tour-de-force performance” will be staged at the Hayes.

“It’s a unique opportunity to see a piece with such a legacy performed in an intimate venue. It will be a fresh look at a classic, and to see a remarkable performer tell you this story a matter of metres away from you, is really special.”

Tell Me On A Sunday plays at the Hayes Theatre Co, Potts Point, Sydney, 12 April – 5 May. More information here.

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