Poor Alice Ripley. The Tony-nominated Broadway veteran made such a charming impression last summer in the Sondheim Celebration as the rattled bride-to-be Amy in Company. A one-woman musical such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me on a Sunday should be icing on the cake for a performer of Ripley’s estimable talent.
Yet here she is, her reputation needlessly sullied with an ill-conceived, highly unflattering production of the Lloyd Webber song cycle — little more than an hour long — that originated on British television before being adapted for the first half of Song & Dance on Broadway in the mid-eighties with Bernadette Peters.
We’ve seen proof that Ripley should be able to meet the acting and singing demands of the role of Emma, a young Englishwoman who moves to New York and stumbles through a series of ill-fated love affairs. It’s other major elements in the mix that do virtually everything possible to repress and burden Ripley’s natural radiance instead of letting it lead the way.
An atrocious black wig obscures Ripley’s lively expressions, and she looks uncomfortable in a series of mostly skimpy, uninteresting costumes that neither enhance the character nor Ripley’s voluptuous figure. Nothing should matter at the climatic moment of the gorgeously crafted title song, and yet you find yourself cringing at the sight of an actress inappropriately bedecked in fake hair and a man’s pajama top, her legs clad in distracting chicken-wire-like support tights. (Could someone get the lady a robe, perhaps?)
If that moment’s blown, everything else is a waste, although the production goes out of its way to prove it. Throughout the performance, Ripley either over-sings or is over-amplified. Neither are excusable. The set pieces are drab and overbearing, and director Marcia Milgrom Dodge does little to add any subtlety and grace to Emma to make her more than a vapid, unsympathetic tart. Shame on everyone involved.
Through Jan. 12 at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $25 to $90. Call 202-467-4600. Visit www.kennedy-center.org.