I’ve said it many times, but the mood set by the Douglas Morrison Tech team is always a delight. From the moment you walk in to this big, unique space, the set, set dressings and lighting in particular just tell you exactly where and when you need to be for the next 2 hours (give or take). Entering the space for 110 in the Shade was no exception and I instantly was transport to a rural town, remote, dusty, simple and in need of a miracle.
The show is based on the play the Rainmaker and if you can get past the sexist overtones of the play (a woman has got to get married to be happy) and see them less as sexist and just as old fashioned, then you’re liable to enjoy it a heap more. There is a genuine argument, supremely played by our lead, that “simple” dreams of love and a family are not only valid, but transformative and beautifully worth seeking and wanting.
The music is sweetly nostalgic in the vein of the classic musicals (think Oklahoma or The Music Man), but not terribly necessary (I’ll get to that in a bit) and while pleasant and sung in most cases extremely well (with a phenomenal orchestra) the songs aren’t very memorable in and of themselves. With the exception of the number at the top of the show, they didn’t stick in my head; I wasn’t humming as I left. Not a requirement by any means for enjoyment, but certainly an indicator for me if I “caught the bug” and bought what was being sold.
The cast had some real bright spots, but on the whole proved a bit uneven. Honestly though, with a tremendous, nearly flawless, standout performance by the actress playing Lizzie (we are talking real emotion, real tears and totally likeable) it’s hard not to make others on stage with you not look less professional. Our rugged cowboys might have been wearing a bit too much eyeliner and blush for me to get sucked in completely, but I will say even if the vocals, dance and acting were spotty in places, it was obvious everyone was committed; no one was “phoning it in” as they say. The townspeople were focused, danced the choreography well, and I appreciated the realistic, variety with regard to age and gender represented on the stage. I had a bit of a problem in 110 heat with the lack of fans, handkerchiefs and ignoring chocolates and a cake laying out for what seemed like hours in the “heat” but the lights and the plot of course help us to remember it’s hot and needs to rain when the props (and theatre itself which runs a bit chilly) didn’t.
Having played the role of Lizzie years ago in the Rainmaker, I know part of me couldn’t help but “judge” when some of the most pivotal, emotional moments from the stage play are” interrupted” by song and dance. A part of me just wants music to elevate and enhance the emotions or move the plot forward and while it accomplishes this very well in some spots, in a few it broke the magic that was happening on stage with silly lyrics and jazz hands. I will of course point out though that I probably can’t remain unbiased, and that an audience unfamiliar with the stage play or even just less familiar with it, may not take issue with those moments in the least.
Scene changes, details on the set (particularly one small, but significant one the back wall during the final scene) and costuming specifically for the women were visually pleasing and overall I think there was more I liked about this show then bugged me.
For a pleasant, sweet and old-fashioned musical, 110 in the Shade certainly delivers. 3 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a trip back in time that will certainly make you smile and may even rekindle your own hopes and dreams. 110 in the Shade plays through December 8th at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward.