Also see Jeffrey's review of I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers
Palm Beach Dramaworks has been doing concert versions of musicals for the past several summers. I can say that, hands down, this is the best they have done. Configured beautifully by director Clive Cholerton, what this production did not need was a chorus of smiling, Fosse-handed singer/dancers, and he knew it. The cast of 12 manages to convey the delicacy and the psychological needs of the main characters without sacrificing the beauty of the Schmidt/Jones score (the book was written by N. Richard Nash). All of this with only two weeks rehearsal, the music stands connoting "concert" are unnecessary; everyone was off-book. Bravi!
Casting the leads, in particular, is tantamount to the success of any "small" musical. Starring as Lizzie is Broadway's (Cinderella) Jessica Hershberg and she is, well, triumphant. A tiny wisp of a young woman with a superb voice, she broke my heart. Her act one finale, "Old Maid," brings the house down and leaves one eager to see what she will do in the second act. Hershberg was the lovely Rosabella in Dramaworks' The Most Happy Fella concert and impressed me. She impressed and thrilled me more here. As the phony rainmaker Starbuck, Cooper Grodin (the titular Phantom of the latest tour) has the sex appeal and baritone that the role calls for. A terrific actor, he is making his Dramaworks debut and I am sure we will see more of him in South Florida.
In supporting roles, William Parry is a loving yet firm father, and Nick Duckart, with the most difficult assignment as brother Noah, a thoroughly unlikeable, underwritten role (in fact, it seemed that his was the male equivalent of the awful sister of Tony in The Most Happy Fella, but I digress), pulls it off well. As the other brother Jimmy, Clay Cartland, after being miscast (in my mind) yet doing his very best in the concert of A Little Night Music, is sheer perfection. Cartland does dopey better than most actors: dopey yet supremely likeable with charisma to spare, and manages to steal each scene he is in by doing nothing but listening and reacting to all that is happening around him. A wonderful performance.
Choreographer Michelle Petrucci provides lovely dances "of the time" and the entire cast performs her work beautifully. I mentioned "chamber musical" earlier, and the music is beautifully played by a quartet: musical director Howard Breitbart on piano, Christopher Glansdorp on cello, Phil MacArthur on violin, and Julie Jacobs on percussion.
A word about sound, often problematic in many south Florida venues. Thanks to Richard Szczublewski, every word, every note is audible without the echoing that sometimes has plagued Dramaworks in the past. Bravo to him.
The matinee crowd I was with seemed to love the show and, for once, the gratuitous standing ovation was well deserved. The concert ends this weekend. I, for one, hope to attend once more. Yes, it is that terrific!
110 In The Shade plays through August 23rd, 2015, at Palm Beach Dramaworks: 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL. Wednesday-Saturday at 8PM, Saturday and Sunday at 2PM. For tickets and more information, visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.com or call 561-514-4042.
-- Jeffrey Bruce