EmptyStudio 54, New York
Through July 15
The 2006-07 Broadway season signs off on a soothing note with the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of this 1963 musical featuring a score by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones ("The Fantasticks"). Adapted by playwright N. Richard Nash from his play "The Rainmaker," "110 in the Shade" is a sweetly engaging work that's impossible to dislike, especially because it offers a wonderful leading role for four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald.
The actress plays Lizzie Curry, a young woman living with her father and brothers in 1930s rural Texas who is in danger of becoming, as the times would have it, an old maid. The possible solution to her dilemma comes in the unexpected form of Starbuck (Steve Kazee), a charismatic drifter and "rainmaker" who offers not only romantic solace but also, for a price of $100, the promise of relief for the drought-plagued community within the next 24 hours.
It's all rather hokey -- not to mention sexist -- stuff, but it works beautifully thanks to the generous doses of sweetness and humor sprinkled in by the author. And Schmidt and Jones' eclectic score, while it lacks any classics on the order of "Try to Remember," is tuneful and engaging.
Director Lonny Price has delivered a mostly charming production, though not every performance is top-notch. Among the supporting players, Carla Duren is far too cutesy as the flirty girlfriend of Lizzie's hick brother (a funny Bobby Steggert). And Kazee's Starbuck, while undeniably handsome, lacks the charm to make credible his character's instant hold over the townspeople.
On the other hand, Christopher Innvar is solid and appealing as File, the sheriff who might be harboring feelings for Lizzie, and the ever-reliable John Cullum is wonderfully low-key and endearing as her protective pa.
Best of all, of course, is McDonald, who has continued to perform in the show despite a recent personal tragedy (her father was killed in an airplane crash shortly before the opening). That she sings beautifully here is, of course, no surprise. But she also delivers a deeply felt turn that movingly conveys Lizzie's complex mixture of pride, pathos, joyfulness and rambunctious humor. The only thing that's less than credible about her performance is that her Lizzie would have undoubtedly been snatched up years ago.
On the technical side, Santo Loquasto's set design is a disappointment, dominated as it is by a huge orb meant to suggest the sun but instead looking like the mothership from "Close Encounters."
110 IN THE SHADE
Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company
Book: N. Richard Nash
Music: Harvey Schmidt
Lyrics: Tom Jones
Director: Lonny Price
Choreography: Dan Knechtges
Set and costume designer: Santo Loquasto
Lighting designer: Christopher Akerlind
Sound designer: Dan Moses Schreier
Lizzie Curry: Audra McDonald
H.C. Curry: John Cullum
Starbuck: Steve Kazee
Noah Curry: Chris Butler
Snookie: Carla Duren
File: Christopher Innvar
Jim Curry: Bobby Steggert