Song and Dance

History and synopsis courtesy of Phosuns

History of the show

"Song & Dance" is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's lesser-known musicals. With a first act whose story is told entirely in song and a second whose plot is established through dance, the musical has never attracted a very large following.

Lyricist Tim Rice suggested that he and Lloyd Webber write a one-woman song cycle, in the mid-'70s. However, with "Evita" and other projects in the works, neither collaborator found time to complete the piece. In 1978, as a result of a lost bet with brother Julian, Lloyd Webber agreed to compose instrumental music for the cello, to be recorded by Julian. This turned into "Variations", a rock band LP featuring variations on a theme by Paganini.

One year later, Lloyd Webber returned to the idea of composing a song cycle. With Don Black, he completed "Tell Me On A Sunday", a brief one-woman show for Marti Webb. It was about an English woman's romantic adventures in New York, and Webb performed it on a BBC TV special. She also recorded her performance for Polydor records.

In 1981, "Cats" producer Cameron Mackintosh suggested that "Variations" be performed as a ballet and be paired with "Tell Me On A Sunday" to create one musical evening. Excited by the idea, Lloyd Webber and Black revised their song cycle and hired choreographer Anthony Van Lassat to stage "Variations" as an exploration of a man's love life in Manhattan. This would serve as the second act of the evening and nicely complement the first, which looked at love in New York from a female perspective. Borrowing a line from "Tell Me On A Sunday" (the title of the first act and of one of the songs in the show), Lloyd Webber named the piece "Song & Dance".

In April, 1982, the show opened at the Palace Theatre in London to mostly enthusiastic audience response (if less than glorious reviews). With Webb in the lead, the show ran a healthy 795 performances. While Lloyd Webber was working on the Broadway production of "Cats" (with Betty Buckley as Grizabella), "Song & Dance" remained on the back burner. In 1984, more revisions were made in the lyrics by Black. The Act II finale, "When You Want To Fall In Love", was re-written as Act I's show stopper, "Unexpected Song". The piece was filmed live by the BBC with Sarah Brightman in the lead. Later in the year, Lloyd Webber invited lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. to revise the show for an American production.

Numerous - and drastic - changes were made in lyrics and characterization. Peter Martins was brought in to completely restage the second act, making it the story of Joe, one of the leading lady's Act I lovers. The female lead was named Emma, given a job (hat designer), and made more sympathetic. Four songs were thrown out, among them the vicious "Let's Talk About You", "I'm Very You, You're Very Me", and two of the score's best numbers: "The Last Man In My Life" and "Nothing Like You've Ever Known". Bernadette Peters was hired to play Emma; dancer Christopher d'Amboise landed the part of Joe.

On September 18, 1985, "Song & Dance" opened at the Royale Theatre on Broadway. Although it was almost universally panned by the critics (who tended to praise Peters and fume about the show itself), the combined appeal of Peters and Lloyd Webber kept audiences coming. Nominated for 10 Tony Awards, the show (competing with "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", another vehicle starring Betty Buckley) won few. Shortly after the awards ceremony, Betty Buckley was cast as Emma.

Utilizing a crisp English accent similar to the one she had used in "Drood" (and would later use in "A Little Night Music"), Buckley gave a stunning performance. She belted her heart out in songs like "English Girls", "You Made Me Think You Were In Love", and "Take That Look Off Your Face", and gave once-in-a-lifetime renditions of "Unexpected Song", "Come Back With The Same Look In Your Eyes", and "Tell Me On A Sunday". Her Emma was sensitive and moving, though certainly not without a sense of humor.

Plot Synopsis

The orchestra plays musical themes from the songs to come as the lights dim (OVERTURE). Newly arrived from England, Emma, a British woman (Betty Buckley), enters. Her hair tumbles about her face, and she's gawky, young, and thrilled to be in New York. Vivian, an old friend of hers, greets her. Emma informs her that, aside from pursuing her ambition to become a hat designer, she is here to meet Chuck, her "boyfriend from Queens". When Viv expresses doubts about the success of Emma's new romance, the two argue; Emma insists that she's "no longer the mess [she] used to be" in terms of relationships (TAKE THAT LOOK OFF YOUR FACE).

We next see Emma in Chuck's apartment at 3 a.m., the following morning. He was supposed to pick her up at the airport, but never showed up. During her brief stay in his apartment, Emma has learned from various phone calls that Chuck has not been faithful to her. Furious, she leaves him (LET ME FINISH). Out on the street with no place to go, Emma contemplates what to do next. She finally decides to ask Viv for a room (SO MUCH TO DO IN NEW YORK).

As Emma pens a letter to her mother, we learn that she has met another man, film producer Sheldon Bloom, who will soon "sweep [her] away" to California (FIRST LETTER HOME). In Los Angeles, she is thrilled to find that her social life is improving merely because of her accent (ENGLISH GIRLS). However, her delight eventually wears thin and turns to boredom: Sheldon is never around, and Emma has nothing to do all day (CAPPED TEETH AND CAESAR SALAD). When she begins to feel as if she's being treated like "one of [Sheldon's] possessions, one of his things", she leaves him (YOU MADE ME THINK YOU WERE IN LOVE). Sadly, she realizes that Los Angeles is certainly not what it's cracked up to be (CAPPED TEETH AND CAESAR SALAD (REPRISE)). Emma flies back to New York.

Back in Manhattan, Emma gets an apartment and meets yet another man. This time, though, she is actually attracted to him. His name is Joe and he hails from Nebraska (SO MUCH TO DO IN NEW YORK (II)). Emma writes to her mother, expressing her happiness that she has finally found the right man (SECOND LETTER HOME). Joe, who lives in Greenwich Village and shares a loft with "an attorney with the unlikely name of Dwight", promises Emma that Dwight will get her a Green Card. This will enable her to work in America and, at last, start designing hats.

Alone, Emma is thrilled that she is now feeling love like none she's ever known (UNEXPECTED SONG). Joe "sells software and must travel". He tells Emma that he is leaving New York on a new business trip. She senses that something is wrong, and hopes that their romance will survive (COME BACK WITH THE SAME LOOK IN YOUR EYES).

The next morning, Emma's fears prove well-founded. Viv arrives, telling her that Joe has not left the city. At first, Emma refuses to accept what Viv tells her and throws her out (TAKE THAT LOOK OFF YOUR FACE (REPRISE)). However, she admits to herself that she knew from the start the relationship wouldn't last; Joe simply could not make a commitment to her. Devastated, Emma realizes that she has fallen into the trap she thought she'd gotten out of. Since rejection seems to be inevitable, Emma wishes that a man who leaves her could at least try to soften the closing blows and "take the hurt out of all the pain" (TELL ME ON A SUNDAY).

Depressed, Emma meets a married man named Paul. She has no romantic interest in him, but decides to use him to let go of all the emotion left over from her relationship with Joe (I LOVE NEW YORK: SO MUCH TO DO IN NEW YORK (III)). Paul, bored with his wife and children, needs some excitement; Emma vows to provide it (MARRIED MAN). As she sings, she pins back her tumbling hair into a sophisticated, very "New York" hairdo. Writing to her mother yet again, Emma describes the new success she has found in her profession, as well as her new love affair (THIRD LETTER HOME).

At 2 a.m., Paul arrives at her door. He tells her that he has left his wife and children for her. Worse, he has already told his wife about their affair. Emma is shocked and begins to panic. She tells Joe that she loves him, "but not in that way" and asks him to leave (LET ME FINISH (REPRISE)). Finally, he complies. Emma is astonished at the kind of person she has become (WHAT HAVE I DONE?). As a soft, instrumental reprise of "Unexpected Song" plays, she breaks down. "I never used to be like this," she laments. Suddenly, Emma confronts herself in an imaginary mirror (TAKE THAT LOOK OFF YOUR FACE (REPRISE)). She realizes that she has lost her innocent, naive, but happier self, and she vows to win that side of her life back. "I'll be Emma again! If it means being hurt, I'll be hurt, but I'll like myself then. Every word that I'm saying will happen, wait and see. If you think that it won't, you don't know me!", she sings, pulling apart her new hair style until it once again tumbles around her face. "You don't know me!", she cries a final time. With a look of sheer determination, she faces the mirror. The first act curtain falls.

Act II, told entirely in dance, concerns Joe's life in New York. In this act, Joe (Christopher d'Amboise) is not the only character seen on stage - a variety of women appear, their dances symbolizing Joe's relationships with them. Each one seems empty and unfulfilling. In one scene, Emma and Joe accidentally bump into one another. This leads Joe to realize how empty his other relationships have been and what he has lost by leaving Emma. A magnificent solo dance sequence for Joe is seen, in which he becomes determined to win Emma back. At the end of the show, he has (UNEXPECTED SONG (REPRISE)). Emma and Joe embrace as Act II closes.

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