Following the success of Evita (first as a concept album in 1976, then as a West End and Broadway musical), composer Andrew Lloyd Webber split from his lyricist partner Tim Rice and embarked on a period of musical experimentation. His Variations, an instrumental work inspired by Paganini and written for his younger brother, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, was a best-selling album in Britain in 1978. In 1979, he became interested in shaping a one-woman show for West End veteran Marti Webb, who had taken over the title role in the London production of Evita. He approached Don Black, a successful British lyricist best known for his film songs, including "To Sir With Love," "Ben," and the Academy Award-winning "Born Free." (Despite being an established figure, Black, unlike Rice, was willing to collaborate without being given equal billing.) Black, who had spent years commuting between London, New York, and Los Angeles, proposed a storyline about a middle-aged British woman's romantic experiences in the two American coastal cities. Lloyd Webber agreed, and the two wrote Tell Me on a Sunday, to which the composer contributed a typically melodic pop/rock score, while Black displayed his detailed knowledge of a Briton's view of Greenwich Village, Rodeo Drive, and the Hollywood movie business. Webb performed the song cycle as a BBC television production in January 1980, and it was released as an album that just missed topping the British charts and spawned the top five single "Take That Look Off Your Face." In 1982, Lloyd Webber turned Tell Me on a Sunday and Variations into a theatrical evening called Song & Dance, with Webb taking up the first act and a dance troupe performing to the instrumental work in the second. The show opened at the Palace Theatre in London on March 26, and 12 days later, on April 7, 1982, it was recorded live for this original cast album. The original production ran for more than two years, and the show has since been revived successfully.
Tell Me on a Sunday was, and would continue to be, a work-in-progress. The 1982 version is expanded from the TV production, with several new songs added: "The Last Man in My Life," "I Love New York," and "Married Man." As such, it is a fuller story, in fact, too full, if anything, as the sole character reels from one romance to another with successively less likely partners, from a Hollywood mogul ("Sheldon Bloom") to a youthful suitor ("It's Not the End of the World [If He's Younger]") to a "Married Man." More an oratorio than a theatrical work, it is held together by Lloyd Webber's winning pop melodies, Black's trenchant observations, and Webb's knowing, committed performance. It is notable that, though "Variation 5," heard in the second part, contains the melody, and there is an earlier version of the lyric in "When You Want to Fall in Love," also in the second part, "Unexpected Song," later to become an important part of Tell Me on a Sunday, is not featured here in its final form. Also, the version of the show that turned up on Broadway in 1985 was drastically revised by Richard Maltby, Jr., who dumped many of Black's lyrics. The chief loss in the later versions is the deletion of "The Last Man in My Life," an excellent song that can only be heard on this recording.
As it was on the earlier album, Variations is a lively work that gives both Lloyd Webber's supporters and his detractors evidence to support their positions. It veers wildly from classical-sounding passages to pop/rock and even heavy metal, suggesting Beethoven one minute and Jethro Tull the next, before indulging in Henry Mancini-like jazzy soundtrack sounds. The live audience is appreciative of the music as well, no doubt, as the dance movements the mere listener cannot see, and it is clear that, even in what is nominally a chamber piece, Lloyd Webber remains essentially a theater music composer, deeply concerned with drama and dynamics, even if the result as a composition is so rampantly eclectic it reveals little sense of organization. (In that sense, the title Variations gives the composer an easy out; after all, practically anything can be described as a variation, can't it?) Nevertheless, taken together, the two works that constitute Song & Dance contain some of Lloyd Webber's more successful efforts, at least in this version. (Originally released in the U.K. on Polydor Records in 1982, the Song & Dance original London cast album was belatedly issued in the U.S. on Really Useful Records on May 9, 2000.)