Monday, May 01, 2006

110 in The Shade (Kalliope Stage)

Kalliope’s ‘110 IN THE SHADE’ pleases in spite of obstacles

Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones are masters of writing the “small” musical. Best known for ‘THE FANTASTICS,’ the longest running off-Broadway musical, ‘I DO, I DO’ and the seldom done ‘CELEBRATION,’ the duo writes lovely music with lyrics that help develop the plot. Though ‘110 IN THE SHADE,’ which is now being produced by Kalliope Theatre, is not up to the level of ‘THE FANTASTICS,’ it is quite charming.

The musical opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran for 331 performances. It starred Robert Horton and Inga Swenson. Songs include, "Love, Don't Turn Away," "Poker Polka," "Everything Beautiful Happens at Night," "You Ain't Fooling Me," "Old Maid," "Raunchy," and "Is It Really Me?".

‘110 IN THE SHADE’ is based on N. Richard Nash’s play ‘THE RAINMAKER,’ which was also turned into a film which starred Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn.

It’s the middle of a heat wave in 1930's Texas. Everyone is longing for rain. Lizzie Curry, in spite of wit, intelligence and skills as a homemaker can’t find a husband. Even the bachelor town sheriff, for whom she harbors a secret yen, won't take a chance. Suddenly, Starbuck, a con man, passing himself off as a rainmaker, appears. (Think ‘MUSIC MAN’ and Dr. Harold Hill, the slick salesman of dreams but this time with a divining rod.) Lizzie's world is turned upside down and, as in all good fairy tale musicals, there is a happy ending, but with an unusual twist.

Kalliope’s production, under the direction of Paul F. Gurgol, is generally effective, in spite of some weakness in character development.

Joan Ellison was totally believable as Lizzie. Unfortunately, on the night I saw the production, she lost her voice and talked the song lyrics during the second act. She did it very effectively.

Daniel Henning was delightful as Lizzie’s youngest brother. He, along with Elizabeth Kelly (Snookie) displayed excellent dancing ability in the show’s only really choreographed number, “Little Red Hat.” Justin Tatum was properly up tight as Lizzie’s older brother and Leslie Feagan was endearing as Lizzie’s dad.

Don Circle, Jr. had some excellent moments as the sheriff. He has a good singing voice, but seemed somewhat stiff in the role.

Allan Snyder (Starbuck) is lead-male handsome and has an excellent singing voice, but his acting was all on the surface. He entered with too much vocal dynamics and was hyper throughout, making for audience discomfort in the intimate theatre.

Many members of the supporting company were too automatic in their actions.

Though effective, the slight musical accompaniment did not do justice to Schmidt’s music.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Kallliope’s production of ‘110 IN THE SHADE’ makes for a pleasant evening of musical theatre.