Written for Marti Webb in 1979, this one-woman musical tells the story of a wide-eyed and optimistic 29-year-old who goes to New York to seek fun, friendship ... and maybe more. A series of emotional entanglements follow, with a big-shot film-producer, a young photographer, and a married man with a daughter and a wife whom he is going to divorce, real soon now. Each relationship leaves her progressively older and wiser, or at least in a position to make new mistakes each time; but she never really loses her optimistic streak, sure to the last that true love will happen to her one day.
Now in 2004 Marti Webb resumes the role. It's been updated somewhat: with the best will in the world it would be difficult to suspend disbelief enough to see Webb as a 29-year-old, but a couple of subtle changes are enough to adjust for that. The updates also allow for the introduction of modern touches such as mobile phones, email, and speed dating. Yes, there's a whole song about speed dating. Yes, it -- like the other new numbers -- sticks out like a sore thumb.
The problem is that the original musical, while necessarily minimalist, displays Lloyd-Webber's characteristically well-rounded composition; no leitmotif is left un-elaborated, and no loose end is left untied. The new numbers make little or no attempt to tie in with this, leaving them sitting in awkward relation to the interwoven themes and variations (not to make a song and dance about it) of the original material. None of the new music has the simple beauty of "Unexpected Song" (there are mutters of "wasn't that tune originally in Variations?" but hey, it's an unexpected song, it's allowed to appear in the wrong musical ... right?), and the title song "Tell Me On A Sunday", or the catchy pop power of "Take That Look Off Your Face"; and none of the new music can even come close to the haunting recurring theme of "It's Not the End of the World", with its unsettled counterpoint (which, for extra theme-spotting anorak points, briefly takes centre stage as the melodic line for "I Love New York") and its bittersweet combination of optimism and despair.
Interestingly, one of the few places where the changes work well is in the transformation of "I'm Very You, You're Very Me" into a song not to the protagonist's "married man", but to his young daughter. The original is a rather empty-headed love song, which doesn't really show any development of the character (although possibly reinforces the portrayal of her talent for blind optimism) but the new version shows her at least progressing in her self-delusion, with a fantasy of the wonderful relationship she will have as the "second mother" of 9-year-old Lucy. Perhaps this seemed more plausible for a 30-something (okay, we can suspend disbelief that far) heroine than for the 20-something of the original.
However this change also, unfortunately, leaves an opening for the new song "Ready Made Life", which although unobjectionable in itself is followed by the most unbelievably mawkish backdrop of home video featuring a young child running in slow-motion with a puppy, being swung around by a parent whose face always remains out of sight, and other hideous cinematographic cliches. It's an unforgivable abuse of the giant video-screens which have until this point been used cleverly and unobtrusively to project impressionistic "scenery", enhancing the minimal props on the rotating stage.
Ultimately the end result of this combination of old and new is something of a mixed bag; and while it's undeniably good in parts, it feels slightly unfinished and ragged in ways that the original avoided. Despite this, though, the original well-crafted songs shine through, and Webb's voice still carries them well. The slightness of the plot is balanced by its universality: we've all been there, and we've all sworn we'd never make the same mistakes again, and we've gone ahead and made them anyway, and we'd do the same thing again given half a chance... or is that just me?
And okay, I didn't cry all the way through, but it was a near thing.