Theatre Review: ‘110 in the Shade’ at Theatrical Outfit

Eugene Russell, IV and the cast of ‘110 in the Shade.’ (Photos by Christopher Bartelski)

Theatrical Outfit is presenting the musical “110 in the Shade,” based on N. Richard Nash’s 1954 play “The Rainmaker”; it’s directed by Tom Key and runs through June 24.

Chances are you’ve heard of “The Rainmaker” because of the 1956 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster; with actors like that even a pedestrian work can become luminous. The original Broadway play ran for only 125 performances, despite a charming story of loveless lives transformed and a young Geraldine Page in the leading role.

But composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones, fresh from their Off-Broadway triumph “The Fantasticks” (which would become the longest running show in American history), liked “The Rainmaker” enough to create the musical “110 in the Shade,” which opened in late 1963 and ran for almost a year. Unfortunately, two legendary megahits opened in 1964 just months after “The Rainmaker”: Carol Channing’s “Hello, Dolly!” and Barbra Streisand’s “Funny Girl.” Let’s just say the public’s attention was diverted.

Let’s turn to a dry, dusty little town called Three Point, Texas on July 4, 1936. Times are desperate, cattle are dying, and the Curry family is worried that Lizzie (Ayana Reed), a grown young woman with no husband and no prospects, is likely to drift into permanent spinsterhood. Neither her father H.C. (LaParee Young) nor her two brothers Noah (Lowrey Brown) and Jimmy (Edward McCreary) are pleased about Lizzie’s situation, for they all love her.

Lowery Brown, Edward McCrey, Eugene Russell, IV and LaParee Young.

But they have different ways of showing it: Her dad encourages her to “spark a beau” by showing an interest in File (Eugene H. Russell IV), a divorcé who is so gun-shy about dating now that he won’t even attend the Curry’s picnic for fear Lizzie’s family will push her on him. Her younger brother Jimmy, ever the optimist, is his sister’s biggest cheerleader. But the dour Noah thinks Lizzie should accept her situation and die an old maid. He’s also quick to point out—constantly—that Jimmy is not too bright (in Noah’s opinion). Noah is not the life of the party.

That role falls to a stranger named Starbuck (Jeremy Wood), a con artist (perhaps) who shows up and claims he can produce rain; and he’ll do it if the town will pay him $100. Naturally, many view his claim with skepticism, but Starbuck is actually offering more than rain. He senses, correctly, that the town is suffering from a desolation of spirit and desperately needs refreshment. He is actually a sort of mystic character, a savior, if you will.

He senses that Lizzie needs to believe in herself and her own hidden charm and talent. She responds to him and it seems a budding romance will occur. But something deeper is actually happening, to Lizzie and the whole town, but you’ll have to see the show to discover that.

Galen Crawley and Edward McCreary.

“110 in the Shade” is problematic, however: In the original musical, all the play’s interior scenes were moved outdoors for ensemble numbers and dances. So there’s only an arrid background which effectively reminds one of the drought but relieves set designer Thomas Brown of any indoor scenes. But the simplicity of the set puts an extra burden on the actors, and this is not a dramatically compelling play with timeless dialogue. The songs (musical direction by S. Renee Clark, orchestration by Jonathan Tunick, choreography by Angela Harris) are rather prosaic, not inspiring; even though they are well sung by a hard-working cast.

And there’s not much chemistry between Mr. Wood and Ms. Reed, even though both have fine singing voices. Actually, Snookie (Galen Crawley) and Mr. McCreary’s Jimmy seem to have the best time with “Little Red Hat,” and it’s fun. Both of these performers have talent and magnetism to burn.

Even a fine company like Theatrical Outfit with the distinguished Mr. Key directing cannot knock a homer every time out. Nevertheless, there is wistful charm here and a lovely message if you understand the magic of believing.

For tickets and information, visit theatricaloutfit.org.

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