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110 in the Shade

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

COMPANY : Southside Theatre Guild [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Southside Theatre Guild [WEBSITE]
ID# 4611

SHOWING : July 24, 2014 - August 10, 2014



Lizzie, a spinster woman, lives in her family’s ranch, in a hot and drought-stricken American Southwest town. The plot centers on her search for love and her choice between two suitors: Starbuck, a charismatic con man posing as a rainmaker who can bring rainfall to the drought-stricken town, and Sheriff File, the town’s most eligible bachelor.

Director Jared Wright
Doc Martin Eric Arvidson
File David Azzarello
Rita Baker Linda Cochran
Claire Anne Eidson
Marlene Baker Louisa Grant
H.C. Curry Thom Grindle
Bill Starbuck Patrick Hill
Lizzy Curry Rachael Levi
Mrs. Jensen Jill Lucas
Jimmy Curry Jerrell Melton
Geshy Toops Andrew Miller
Ronald David Smith
Noah Curry J. Scott Vaughan
Ellie White Zoe Vaughan
Snookie Updegraff Harvee White
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More Than 110 Minutes in the Auditorium
by playgoer
Saturday, July 26, 2014
"110 in the Shade" is one of my favorite musicals, with a sterling score and a time-tested story. Its source material, N. Richard Nash’s play "The Rainmaker," is still a popular play selection with community theatres. The musical, though, with songs by the team who created "The Fantasticks," is rarely done.

The story bears some resemblance to "The Music Man" -- a con man comes to a town, hoodwinks the populace, and becomes romantically involved with a female sceptic. In this case, though, there’s a romantic rival and a drought. The tone is darker and more dramatic. And the songs for the three principals are lush and melodic.

At Southside Theatre Guild, the three principals all have sterling voices. David Azzarello, as Sheriff File, has a sweet, powerful baritone that works well in all his numbers. Patrick Hill, as con man Bill Starbuck, has an even more powerful voice, although he sometimes seems to be pushing it a bit. As for Rachael Levi, who plays Lizzy Curry, her voice is thrillingly beautiful in all her ballads and duets. Only the comedy song "Raunchy" doesn’t seem to be a good match for her voice (both in range and in style), but her acting and dancing put the number across with verve and good humor.

The acting of all the main characters is good. Aside from the three principals, they include Lizzy’s father and brothers and the girlfriend of one of her brothers. Thom Grindle, as father H.C., plays his role with the confidence of an old pro. Scott Vaughan, as practical brother Noah, ably portrays a man who loves his sister enough to share what he considers brutal truths with her. Jerrell Melton III, as "dumb" brother Jimmy, works his comic moments with crowd-pleasing delight, and he is winningly supported by Harvee White, as his girlfriend Snookie. The acting puts the story across with clarity and energy.

Then there’s the chorus and orchestra, which firmly ground the production in community theatre territory. The orchestral accompaniment is sometimes good and sometimes iffy. The chorus, about evenly split between children and adults, know their roles and their dances, but don’t always imbue them with energy. Choreographer Monique Hache has given them a lot of complicated movements, and the looks of concentration on their faces instead of looks of joy sap the pleasure out of the up-tempo numbers. There’s also a tap solo/challenge duet for Melissa Clipp and Zoe Vaughan that too clearly shows the gap between the capabilities of those two and the rest of the cast. The only choreographic moments that work are smaller ones -- "Raunchy" for Lizzy and "Little Red Hat" for Jimmy and Snookie.

The set is nicely designed by Janet Reed and Jared Wright, with a fold-out jail stage right and a fold-out house stage left for the Curry family. Brick work, clapboards, shingles, and a wonderfully artistic fence of narrow slats cover the front of the stage. Upstage, the set is somewhat less wonderful, with revolving panels on either side that are a solid color on one side and have painted trees on the other. The orchestra is obscured behind a black scrim far upstage, framed by an ornate white bandstand, but this contributes to visual clutter in some scenes. On opening night, there were problems in bringing Starbuck’s wagon on from stage right, with stage crew having to walk onstage to exit behind it. It’s a nice wagon, and I assume the logistics of its presence onstage will be worked out as the run progresses.

Costumes are pretty much general-issue western attire, with a nice "dress-up" gown for Lizzy and the perfect little red hat for Snookie. Bill Starbuck’s costume is slimming black with a big metal belt buckle, but Patrick Hill doesn’t seem fully comfortable in it. All in all, the costumes are fine, but don’t add a lot of visual appeal. Lighting design, by Paula Byram and Chris Shellnutt, is acceptable, with nice transitions in most cases between general stage light and the spotlight used for intimate musical numbers.

Only some actors are miked, but sound levels are acceptable across the board. Sound designers Emily Arvidson and Caleb Barrett seem to have had a good handle on their job in the show. Pre-show and intermission music, however, is pretty dreadfully generic and does nothing to set the mood of the show.

I overheard a discussion among audience members with connections to the production that some cuts in the running time had been considered, and might take effect for later performances. That wouldn’t hurt, since the running time is well over 2.5 hours. This is an ambitious show, with an ambitious special effect at the end of the show, and for Southside Theatre Guild, the ambition seems to be slightly beyond their reach. The show itself is a fine one, and the performance of Rachael Levi as Lizzie is something wonderful to behold, but the quality of the whole production doesn’t equal the sum of its more impressive parts. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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