110 in the Shade by N. Richard Nash, music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones. Directed by Doug Hodge.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"When a man makes a point of ignoring you... he isnít ignoring you at all."
A good musical is about transitions. This show, which opens the Mac-Haydn Theatreís season, is about multiple transitions. Based on the play "The Rainmaker" by N. Richard Nash, it removes illusions from some characters, creates adults from long-in-the-tooth teenagers, reinforces the sense of being special, shores up fantasies and holds in abeyance the miracle of self-realization to the point where we, the audience, want to scream in frustration. Conceived and created by the young songwriting/playwrighting team that brought us The Fantasticks, it was a Broadway show with chorus and those trappings that made any David Merrick musical into something BIG. But on this stage, in the round, it has been reduced to its principals only, to seven people in a parched landscape where the average daily temperature is as hot and dry as the emotions of its players.
If you havenít been to the Mac-Haydn before, be aware that this orchestra is reduced to synthesizers and percussion. Sometimes it works, but sometimes you cringe at the sound of it, especially when its pumped up volume overwhelms you. Many of the cast members are young, somewhat inexperienced players who may also make you cringe. But then, like the miracles held in check in this show, you finally come across some truly wonderful things, things that only in a musical can you expect to find.
Lizzie Curry expects miracles. She is a slightly over-the-hill, plain woman who has a girlish quality that threatens never to leave her. The only marriage proposal she has ever gotten came from a nine-year old. As her brother Noah tells her, marriage is an illusion for her. She is destined to be an old maid. Bill Starbuck is man who promises miracles, particularly rain for a parched landscape. However his presence brings more than promises. He brings a form of light that illuminates from within. When these two meet sparks fly, particularly in this new production.
Monica M. Wemitt and Rob Richardson bring a bizarre reality to their playing. In their first act duet, "Youíre Not Fooliní Me" it seems as though one or the other might be dead before the song is over. The electricity is palpable. By the middle of the second act he has transformed this ugly duckling into a graceful and gracious swan and she has taken him from self-acclaimed demi-God to anxious, delirious young man. Meeting in the middle as they do, there is great beauty on the stage in Chatham. Both sing well and act perfectly. Itís a delicious pairing.
As the cynical older brother, Noah, John Saunders also sparks in his scenes with Wemitt. His honest denunciation of her dreams and self-delusion near the end of Act One was so powerful that it brought honest tears to her eyes and to mine as well. When a musical gives you moments that actually choke you up then you have something special going on.
The rest of the cast do their best with their material. Michael Kreutz as H.C. is fine, the best of the rest. Al Pagano as File, the reluctant hero, is strained, especially in his singing, but at the finale he was good if a bit hard to believe - and thatís a problem with the book and the direction, not with his acting. Michael Salimbene as the younger brother Jimmy is just okay and as Snookie, his girlfriend, we have Erica Wilpon.
The minimal choreography by director Doug Hodge works well and his direction of his cast around the stage and into the characters is very good indeed. Everyone is well defined in their movements. The production design by Bob Hamel (costumes), Jimm Halliday (costumes) and Andrew Gmoser (lighting) is fine and, by the way, there will be rain at every performance. After all, miracles matter in musicals.
Rob Richardson and Monica M. Wemitt as Starbuck and Lizzie
John Saunders as Noah Curry
110 in the Shade runs through June 3. Check with the theater for performance schedule and times. Prices range from $23.50 - $25.50. The theater is located on route 203 in Chatham, NY and the box office can be reached at 518-392-9292.