Review: ‘110 in the Shade’ at Ford’s Theatre

Glorious vocals and a strong cast heat up Ford’s Theatre with the musical gem 110 in the Shade. With music and lyrics by The Fantasticks creators Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, this rollicking musical, based on The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash, has more than enough heat to satisfy.

Tracy Lynn Olivera (Lizzie Curry) and Ben Crawford (Starbuck). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Tracy Lynn Olivera (Lizzie Curry) and Kevin McAllister (File). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge with Musical Direction by Jay Crowder, 110 in the Shade tells the story of headstrong and eternally single Lizzie Curry (Tracy Lynn Olivera), who dreams of a romantic life with someone who is her equal – perhaps the straight arrow sheriff File (Kevin McAllister)? When a conman named Starbuck (Ben Crawford) swaggers into town, he vows to end the Texas town’s sweltering drought and help Lizzie see the beauty inside herself.

As Lizzy, Tracy Lynn Olivera delivers a captivating and downright sizzling performance. Olivera does an exceptional job of delivering the humor, grit, and pain that comprise Lizzie, making the character someone we root for despite the occasional ick factor of the plot. This Lizzie doesn’t need anyone’s help to find a man. She is perfectly wonderful as she is.  Olivera’s vocals soar and she is a force to be reckoned with onstage, showing great range with heartfelt numbers like the lovely ballads “Love, Don’t Turn Away” and “Is It Really Me,” as well as comedic skill in the scandalously funny “Raunchy.”

The show stealer, hands down, is Kevin McAllister in the role of File, the straight arrow sheriff with a troubled past. McAllister’s commanding presence coupled with his phenomenal vocals make him a knockout in this show. There is simply no contest in the battle for Lizzie’s heart. McAllister sets the tone for the show with the smoldering “Gonna Be Another Hot Day.” His “Poker Polka” with Lizzie’s father and brothers is one of the comic joys of this show. My favorite number, however, is “A Man and A Woman” – the touching and tentative duet with Lizzie as the two begin to see the possibilities of a future together. McAllister and Olivera’s crystal clear voices and suppressed passions give this number an edge and a grounding that are well worth the ticket price.

Lizzie is surrounded by her loving and well-meaning father and brothers. As her father, H.C. Curry, Christopher Bloch is charming, sincere, and fiercely protective of his spirited daughter. Stephen Gregory Smith delivers a grounded and nuanced performance as Lizzie’s sterner brother, Noah. As the brother who questions his father’s motives for hiring a conman to bring rain (and woo his sister perhaps), Smith avoids clichés and delivers his lines from a complex and compassionate heart.

Gregory Maheu (Jimmy Curry), Christopher Bloch (H.C. Curry), and Stephen Gregory Smith (Noah Curry). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Gregory Maheu (Jimmy Curry), Christopher Bloch (H.C. Curry), and Stephen Gregory Smith (Noah Curry). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Gregory Maheu makes the most of his role as Jimmy Curry, Lizzie’s younger brother who fights an uphill battle convincing people he isn’t dumb. Maheu is charming, affable, and enthusiastic in the role, taking what could be a stock sidekick part and giving him heart and hidden complexities. Maheu lights up the stage, particularly in “Little Red Hat” – delivered with a lively and incredibly talented Bridget Riley as the flirtations Snookie Updegraff.

As the conman Starbuck, Ben Crawford delivers an enthusiastic and swaggering performance. His best moments are with Olivera, such as in the ridiculously over-the-top “Melisande” and the heated “You’re Not Fooling Me.”

Designer Michael Schweikardt takes full advantage of the spatial constraints of Ford’s Theatre, creating a Texas town that exudes heat and dust. Starbuck’s trailer is a particularly effective set piece. Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes evoke the heat and grime of working ranchers during a drought.  Matthew Richards’ and David Budries’ light and sound design effectively add to feeling of sweltering heat – and create a magical surprise at the end of the musical.

Director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge does an exceptional job of  drawing out every last bit of spirit and verve from this musical, working her actors and with the simplistic spatial design of the set to create a feeling of passion and urgency. Dodge’s choreography is lovely, particularly for Maheu and Riley as the comedic lovers Jimmy and Snookie.

Ben Crawford (Starbuck), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Lizzie Curry ), and Kevin McAllister (File). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Ben Crawford (Starbuck), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Lizzie Curry), and Kevin McAllister (File). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Musical Director Jay Crowder brings out the beauty of the score in the vocals of this talented cast and in the power of his small orchestra. Crowder’s abilities to bring out these nuances helps create a sizzling show that really has passion and verve in each beautiful gem of a musical number.

Ford’s Theatre’s sizzling production of 110 in the Shade will have you thinking about what kind of dreams are ones to chase and catch. 110 in the Shade is a magical and entertaining evening for all.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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110 in the Shade plays through May 14, 2016 at Ford’s Theatre— 511 10th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 347-4833, or purchase them online  

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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