Show: 110 in the Shade
Venue: Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub
Credits: Book by N. Richard Nash. Music by Harvey Schmidt. Lyrics by Tom Jones. Presented by All Star Productions
Author: Ned Hopkins
Perfomence Date: 13/05/2017
110 in the Shade
Ned Hopkins | 14 May 2017 22:29pm
A piano strikes up the opening bars of Gonna Be Another Hot Day and the lights come up on Joana Dias’s cloudless piercing blue set with its ochre and brown dried out Texan soil below, immediately whisking us away to the small tucked-away rural community of Three Point in the scorching heat of July 1936.
The inclusion of a stark wind pump USR evokes memories of another unpretentious show set in similar terrain, in the state of Oklahoma! twenty years before 110 in the Shade was first produced, which introduced audiences to the ‘musical play’.
Indeed, Schmidt & Jones’ fresh and often haunting score, its book based on N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker, integrating in its lyrics dialogue from his original play, was to be one of the last Rodgers & Hammerstein-style shows to be produced before concept and rock-based musicals became the norm. If the score isn’t quite in R&H’s league, it certainly comes very close. Best known for small-scale works, especially the evergreen The Fantasticks and successful two-hander I Do, I Do, the duo rarely penned an infelicitous melodic phrase or inept lyric. Sadly the show is seen too infrequently – and never over here.
On Broadway timing is often all, and it was the ill luck of the original production to arrive at the Broadhurst Theatre a month before the assassination of President Kennedy. By the time business had recovered and nominations posted for the 1964 Tonys, the gentle 110 in the Shade was up against the boisterous blockbusters Hello, Dolly! and Funny Girl – not to mention She Loves Me with which it shares a similar romantic tone. It nonetheless got short-listed in four award categories including – fully justified – Best Original Score and remains on every aficionado’s list as one of the scores that got away. Full marks then to All Star Productions for letting us see and hear it again.
Like Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, the pivotal character is a conman. Against the down-to-earth farm workers, ‘Starbuck’, one of several aliases, appears a mystical even mythical figure – well he sings about a golden fleece! We don’t know where he comes from or where he is going, yet from the moment he drives in with his caravan of fantastic equipment we know he is of another world; not as a musical instruments salesman but a man with a gift for bringing the drought to an end. A Fairy Godfather to Lizzie (the short number Cinderella is not used here) Starbuck like Harold Hill, purveys magic: the magic to stir up the lives of a small inward-looking community and, in particular, give romantic hope to a diligent, spirited spinster.
Lizzie Currie is a gift of a role for a talented actor-singer. Laurel Dougall fully explores the character’s various layers from the feisty, frustrated man-less girl to the woman whose button is finally pressed when she – literally – lets her hair down and releases all the supressed desires hinted at in an earlier number – Raunchy. It is a moving performance that would happily grace a far larger venue. Dougall delivers all her numbers powerfully and is especially moving in her solo Love Don’t Turn Away, and the duets Simple Little Things and Is It Really Me? Tissue-time every time and deservedly so – but then it’s that sort of show with the best kind of sentiment. We recognise its ‘simple’ truth.
At the start of the show, Lizzie is due back from an arranged visit to another town where her anxious father and brothers hope she may have bagged a suitor – but to no avail. She’s too clever to be manipulated. The family’s next attempt to match her up with File, the local Sherriff and invite him to the July 4th picnic also fails. File (Nick Wyschna) has his own problems having been damaged from a failed marriage and is in denial about his emotional needs. He defensively spurns their attempts to bring them both together to the extent of picking a fight with and blacking the eye of Lizzie’s young brother Jimmy – an energetic, twinkle-footed Julian Quijano. Quijano ‘s crowd-pleasing dance duet Little Red Number with the chirpily vivacious Rebecca Withers as his girlfriend Snookie, is another highlight in an evening of delicious numbers.
One of the many strengths of Randy Smartnick’s production is the casting of actor-singers who create three-dimensional characters. Wyschna makes File manly yet vulnerable, an everyday anti-hero who only tumbles to what he needs when he is close to losing it.
As the rainmaker himself, Daniel Urch arrives charismatic and swaggering. But as time goes on and he reveals himself to be as much a dreamer as Lizzie, he seems to genuinely fall under her spell as much as she does his. Urch then shows Starbucks’s caring, needy side, hinting at his own disappointments and confessing to being a charlatan. But of course, she had already guessed.
If there are moments when Urch’s fine singing voice gets a trifle lost in his acting, it is nevertheless the performance of an actor with huge potential. There is a great chemistry between the two lovers especially in the duets. It is good to see his attractive solo Evening Star – cut in Boston in 1963 – justifiably reinstated here as in the 2007 New York revival.
In an all-round exemplary cast, Christopher Lyne manages to breathe life into Lizzie’s well-meaning father. Likewise, David West fleshes out the role of her brother Noah with as much dramatic clout as it will take.
Aaron Clingham’s orchestrations, played by a six-piece band, beautifully support the show and the choral work is a delight. So too is Kate McPhee’s lively and well-executed choreography. As with Kiss Me Kate’s Too Darn Hot, one does, however, wonder how everyone finds the energy to dance in all that heat!
Talking of heat, if I have a technical comment it is that currently the production is too well-paced and drilled to fully convey the lethargy such warmth creates – even though it successfully brings out the frazzled nerves. There is a tendency in the first half for lines to be gabbled and get lost under the thick Texan accents, though things become more measured later.
I came away after an engaging two and a half hours, my head buzzing with the infectious music and contemplating one of the show’s principal messages:
Simple little things.
Simple little dreams