110 in the Shade
The book of 110 in the Shade isn't politically incorrect or offensive, it's just dated. In a good way. 110 in the Shade takes place in a sepia-tinged world where the biggest crime is not being friendly, where an argument is resolved with a punch and quickly forgotten, where being divorced is something you whisper about, and where a woman's brothers do their best to get her married off. N. Richard Nash's book, based on his play The Rainmaker, itself makes one nostalgic - not so much for the time period in which the action takes place, but for the time when people wrote musicals like this: plots where the villain isn't just a "bad guy," but someone with good intentions and a mistaken view of how to best accomplish them; shows where supporting characters are as multi-dimensional as the lead; and scripts where the metaphors are so clear, nobody need explain them.
110 in the Shade is the story of a town suffering a ceaseless heat wave, a woman whose social life is suffering a similar drought, and the travelling con man who promises to do something about the former, but ends up addressing the latter.
At the center of the Pasadena Playhouse production is Marin Mazzie as Lizzie, the town spinster who doesn't want to become an old maid, but can't bring herself to be the girly girl who can get a man. Mazzie fully inhabits Lizzie, creating a genuine portrait of a no-nonsense woman who won't lower herself to brainless flirtatiousness, but secretly longs for a married life of quiet domesticity. While Lizzie might not be attractive to the men of the town, Mazzie's Lizzie is an extremely likeable character from an audience perspective, and we root for her from the start. Of course, Mazzie's singing certainly doesn't hurt; from her clarion clear soprano easily soaring over the rest of the company, to her gravelly belt (when imagining what it might be like to be "Raunchy"), Mazzie dominates.
Playing opposite Mazzie as Starbuck, the travelling rainmaker, is her real-life husband Jason Danieley. Danieley's performance is all about charisma. While there's no doubt that Danieley has something of an easy job in having chemistry with his own wife, Danieley's Starbuck could charm a brick wall. Watching him sing "The Rain Song," in which Starbuck convinces a skeptical town that he can indeed make rain, makes you wonder if anyone needs a Harold Hill someplace.
Ben Davis is somewhat weaker as File, the sheriff with whom Lizzie wouldn't mind being fixed up. Davis absolutely has the vocal ability to do justice to his share of the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt score, but his characterization isn't quite right. File is supposed to be staid and reserved, but that's no reason Davis's performance should be. Davis seems to have trouble committing to the emotional truth of File. The result is apparent at the end of the play, when File's big, important line gets a chuckle from the audience, who sees it as a little corny. Lizzie has lines that are even cornier, but Mazzie plays them with such brutal honesty, she earns sniffles and tears.
The rest of the company is something of a mixed bag. Adam Wylie is terrific as Lizzie's little brother, Jimmy. His first step in a short dance sequence is eye-catching, announcing to everyone that this is someone to pay attention to. Alli Mauzey is less successful as Snookie, Jimmy's girlfriend. Mauzey's Snookie gets laughs with her whiny kittenishness, but she overplays it to the point of irritation. Lyle Kanouse is perfection as Lizzie's gentle father, and Tom Wilson is completely believable as Lizzie's sometimes harsh brother. (Wilson also has the honor of a wonderfully creative pre-show cell phone announcement.)
If this production has any hopes of a life beyond the Pasadena Playhouse, it needs some significant spiffing up. The company numbers only fifteen - with seven members playing name characters, few are left to be "townspeople," making ensemble numbers a little thin. A ten-member orchestra does not overwhelm. Kay Cole's choreography is minimal. In one place, women shaking out a tablecloth in synch with the music is the high point. Roy Christopher's set is simple, suggesting locations rather than creating them. Randy Gardell's costumes (frequently enhanced with fake sweat stains) are also small budget, with each character having at most one costume change.
For a production that has put nearly all of its eggs into the basket of its lead performers, 110 in the Shade largely succeeds, thanks to Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley. But if it aspires to more, it needs more.
110 in the Shade runs at the Pasadena Playhouse through July 25, 2004. For information and tickets, click www.pasadenaplayhouse.org
Pasadena Playhouse - Sheldon Epps, Artistic Director; Lyla White, Executive Director - presents 110 in the Shade. By N. Richard Nash. Music by Harvey Schmidt; Lyrics by Tom Jones. Based on a play by N. Richard Nash. Scenic Design Roy Christopher; Costume Design Randy Gardell; Lighting Design Michael Gilliam; Sound Design Frederick W. Boot; Casting Bruce H. Newberg C.S.A.; Production Stage Manager Jill Gold; Stage Manager Lea Chazin. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; Musical Direction by Steve Orich; Choreography by Kay Cole. Directed by David Lee.
Photo by Craig Schwartz