There are certain songs that stick with you. You play them over in your head, you whistle them in the shower, their melodies bring you to tears or part clouds on a rainy day.
For John Stuart, Unexpected Song from the musical Tell Me on a Sunday fits that description.
He first heard the Bernadette Peter’s version in 1990.
“It’s just a beautiful love song and it just really touched me,” said Stuart.
After hearing the song, Stuart was determined to direct the musical. Since then, he’s been looking for an actress who could not only sing but also act in the one-person play.
Stuart, who founded the Emerald Pig Theatrical Society with his wife, Sharon Malone, met Kerry Kierulf in 2008 and the pair set out to update Tell Me on a Sunday until she was forced to relocate to Edmonton.
Kierulf and Stuart updated the script and used Finale, a software program used to score movies, to create a backing track for the songs.
Since the quest to stage the musical was already a decade long, Stuart wasn’t ready to give up when Kierulf moved away from Maple Ridge.
“It got put on the back burner until I met Robyn Van Luven in 2010,” he says.
Van Luven, who plays Emma, just happened to be his daughter’s best friend. A professionally trained singer, she had the perfect voice for the part.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber music is not easy music,” says Stuart.
“He uses different tempos and different keys and Robyn is able to hit the notes throughout and no matter what and just sing it out. She has just been a joy to work with for the show.”
Tell Me on a Sunday is a musical with music by Webber and lyrics by Don Black. A one-act song cycle, it tells the story of an ordinary English girl from Muswell Hill who journeys to the United States in search of love.
“It is emotional, it is passionate and the story itself goes through a roller coaster of emotions as Emma finds love and loses love,” says Stuart.
“Everybody can experience the emotions that Emma goes through and you can connect with the play whether you are male or female.”
This is the second time Stuart has worked with Van Luven. They staged Tell Me on a Sunday at the Havana on Commercial Drive in 2011.
Van Luven has loved the songs from the musical since she was a little girl.
“I love how her journey is so encompassed in the music. The emotion of what she is going through is all there, ingrained in the score and music.
You don’t even have to see it. You hear the music and you know exactly what she is feeling.”
She describes Emma as a very ambitious person.
“She moves to New York from England. She only knew one person in New York. She moves to pursue a career in hat making and find love.
She always has to be in love with somebody. She has a hard time being alone.”
For Van Luven, it was important to relate to Emma, even though she can’t quite understand why the protagonist doesn’t like being alone.
With a degree in voice from the University of Victoria, Van Luven actually prefer musicals to dialogue.
“Maybe because I have a musical background, I find it easier than dialogue,” she says.
“I find it with music it’s a lot easier to bring a character to life. For me the emotion is already built into the music, so it’s expanding on what’s already there.”
Since it’s the second time she is playing Emma, Van Luven has focused on making the character more nuanced.
She’s conscience of ever action, whether it’s titling her head or pausing for a few seconds.
“I’ve try to add more dimension to her. So she’s just not – she’s happy, sad or angry,” she explains.
The hardest part for Van Luven is interacting with people who aren’t really there.
“It’s pretty much all imagination,” she says.
“I pick a focal spot and try not to wander. And when they walk around the stage I follow them. What John told me to do is just tell the story.”
Tell Me on a Sunday plays is a “dessert theatre” presentation at the ACT. It plays Feb. 14, 16 and 17 at the Genstar Theatre. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and include dessert and coffee or tea.
For tickets, visit actmapleridge.org or call 604-476-2787.