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110 in the Shade

a Musical
by N. Richard Nash (book), Harvey Schmidt (music), Tom Jones (lyrics)

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 5284

SHOWING : May 31, 2018 - June 24, 2018



1936. July 4th. Three Point, Texas. In the middle of a heat wave, while locals are desperate for rain, Lizzie Curry daydreams away fears of becoming a spinster in a tiny, dusty town. Her wit, intelligence and lauded homemaking skills don’t seem to guarantee a romantic future, and even the reserved town sheriff, File, won’t take a chance on the plain girl next door. But, when a charismatic rainmaker named Starbuck sweeps into town promising more than just atmospheric relief, Lizzie’s world is suddenly larger than she imagined possible, and choice and clarity arrive like a cleansing summer storm.

Director Tom Key
Noah Lowrey Brown
Joe Daniel Burns
George Robert Connor
Snookie Rebecca Galen Crawley
Male Understudy Chaz Duffy
Female Understudy Sims Lamason
Beverly Chani Maisonet
Jimmy Edward McCreary
Hanna Candice McLellan
Phil Robby Owenby
Lizzie Ayana Reed
File Eugene Russell IV
Starbuck Jeremy Wood
H.C. LaParee Young
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Casting Shade
by playgoer
Monday, June 11, 2018
The charm of N. Richard Nash’s "The Rainmaker" (and of its musical version) rests on the audience’s appreciation of Lizzie, a woman who believes herself plain, and her chemistry with two possible suitors. In Theatrical Outfit’s production of "110 in the Shade," there’s darn little chemistry and darn little to like about Lizzie. Ayana Reed has been directed to give Lizzie a voice full of hard R’s and a lumbering posture and movement that make her unnecessarily unappealing. Jeremy Wood’s Starbuck has no apparent trace of a con man’s slipperiness about him, so there’s no sense of Starbuck opening up Lizzie and in the process opening himself up a little. Eugene H. Russell IV’s File has more depth and layers, but there’s still mighty little chemistry there with Lizzie.

Thomas Brown’s set is minimal -- three wide expanses of flats, one up center and two angled on the sides, with the upper edges curved to suggest perspective and painted with a low horizon line and plenty of sky, rendered in what appears to be blown-up watercolor pointillism; a floor painted with cracks suggesting parched ground; and tiny two-step platforms downstage on either side. André C. Allen’s overactive lighting design paints the playing space with various colors that heighten the artificiality of the environment. Minimal set pieces are placed onstage to indicate interior locations.

This minimal set compromises the quality of the production. Starbuck is supposed to enter with a wagon; instead, he enters on foot, carrying a large footlocker by his side in a fairly ridiculous manner. Some of the script references to his "wagon" (but not all) have been replaced by references to an offstage "pickup truck." In the intimate post-coital "Is It Really Me?" scene, we don’t get any scenery at all, and having the action occur in the middle of an empty stage robs it of all the quiet power it can have. At least director Tom Key uses the ensemble nicely to aid in scene transitions that require use of set pieces and Maclare Park’s excellent props.

Samantha P. McDaniel’s costumes are adequate, but do not impress, and Lizzie’s supposedly "nice" dress is plain almost to the point of being severe. Starbuck’s bright red pants add to the sense of ridiculousness about his character, as does Angela Harris’ choreography of his "Melisande" number, which leaves him winded for the last portion of the song. Choreography is mostly coordinated movement rather than true "dancing," and the person next to me in the audience praised it. I’d put it more on a par with the fight choreography by Amelia Fisher and Connor Hammond, which has convincing thumps when people are supposedly socked in the jaw, but seems only adequate otherwise.

Sound designer Daniel Terry uses amplification to such an extent that you get the uncomfortable sensation of watching a person’s lips move onstage and hearing sound emanating from speakers overhead. S. Renee Clark’s six-piece band is always balanced with the vocals, which tend to be on the overpowering side, but with soprano melody lines sometimes lost in the mix on choral numbers.

This production has a racially mixed cast, apparently in tribute to the 2007 Broadway revival starring Audra McDonald. We have a black daughter (Ayana Reed) and a black father (usually LaParee Young; Robert John Connor in the performance I attended, with Chaz Duffy covering his role of George), along with two white sons (Edward McCreary and Lowrey Brown). One of the suitors is black (Eugene H. Russell IV as File) and one is white (Jeremy Wood as Starbuck). You’d think that this casting would result in a color-blind production, but music director S. Renee Clark has Mr. Russell give a bluesy feel to many of the notes in his opening number and has Ms. Reed add a bluesy a cappella coda to hers. And then this apparent acknowledgement of the actors’ ethnicity disappears completely. A partially color-blind production doesn’t necessarily work very well.

Director Tom Key starts the show with the cast slowly trickling onto the stage and taking up positions as if they’re starting their days in their own individual homes, as the lights slowly come up. It’s a languid start, befitting another hot day in a hot spell, and there are other nice stage pictures throughout the show, but blocking is not the only responsibility of a director. Performances by the actors are uneven. The ensemble are all good, although they don’t have a lot to do. Secondary characters are also good. Edward McCreary is a delight as younger brother Jimmy, and Lowrey Brown gives a nice reading to abrasive older brother Noah, although he seems to have been given permission to alter notes in his songs to fit his range. Robert John Connor’s take on H.C. is effective, and Galen Crawley has lots of spirit and spunk as Snookie, although she’s not particularly well-cast in the role. (She’d make a terrific Lizzie, I think.)

The three leads are all able actors and singers (and, in Mr. Wood’s case, an able guitar player), but they don’t bring the story to believable life. Ms. Reed seems so focused on the external physicality of Lizzie that her inner life suffers, and Mr. Wood seems to add nothing special to his always-engaging stage presence. Mr. Russell puts more into his character, but he is directed to deliver many of his lines directly out to the audience with a glum expression, making him seem disconnected to the rest of the cast. Perhaps this is intentional, since File is a stand-offish guy, but it emphasizes the lack of romantic chemistry at the heart of this production.

"110 in the Shade" is one of my favorite musicals, but if Theatrical Outfit’s version were my introduction to it, I assure you it would not be. Lionheart Theatre is producing "The Rainmaker," the non-musical version of the story, in September. Perhaps that will be a better introduction to this well-beloved story for those unfamiliar with it. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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