Theater review: A nice breeze flows in Outfit’s ‘110 in the Shade’


“110 in the Shade,” a reasonably modest and unsung 1960s musical version of the famous 1950s play “The Rainmaker,” is hardly the sort of flamboyant show that incorporates any actual downpours of precipitation on stage, a la “Singin’ in the Rain.” At a time when the vast majority of musicals now are conceived as elaborate spectacles, there’s definitely something to be said for a good old-fashioned one that’s more leisurely paced and refreshingly restrained.

Scripted by N. Richard Nash (who also wrote the original comedy-drama), and featuring music and lyrics by the team of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones (“The Fantasticks,” “I Do! I Do!”), the story is set in a small Depression-era Texas town plagued by drought, where a smooth-talking drifter and flimflam man named Starbuck awakens a sense of hope in the everyday citizens — and, in particular, arouses the repressed romantic yearnings of a homely spinster named Lizzie.

Traditional production values are purposely minimal, practically nonexistent, in artistic director Tom Key’s Theatrical Outfit rendition of the piece. On one hand, the technique evokes the wide-open, in-the-middle-of-nowhere expanses of the rural Midwest. On the other, it tends to suggest one of those “in-concert” approaches, with the actors generally just hovering around an empty stage. The scenic design, such as it is, is credited to Thomas Brown.

Key’s interracial ensemble boasts the always-charismatic Jeremy Wood as Starbuck, opposite relative Atlanta newcomer Ayana Reed as Lizzie. In other roles from the initial “Rainmaker,” the great (if underutilized) LaParee Young portrays her father; Edward McCreary and Lowrey Brown are her alternately goofy and cynical younger and older brothers; and Eugene H. Russell IV is sweetly endearing as File, the local sheriff (and a second prospective love interest for her).

Naturally, Nash’s musical adaptation has been broadened to include the usual chorus of villagers, in addition to the superfluous character of a town floozy, only alluded to in the original play. She’s passably performed here by Galen Crawley, whose scenes with McCreary, as written, cast overly derivative shades of Ado Annie and Will Parker from “Oklahoma!”

Most of the songs aren’t especially recognizable, but under the music direction of S. Renee Clark (leading a six-piece band), the highlights are many: Reed’s solos “Love Don’t Turn Away,” “Simple Little Things” and “Is It Really Me?”; her duets with Wood (“You’re Not Fooling Me”) and Russell (“A Man and a Woman”); Wood’s beautiful ballad “Evenin’ Star”; the peppy “Poker Polka” (by Russell, Young, McCreary and Brown); and the company number “The Rain Song.”

While Starbuck may have had the title role in “The Rainmaker,” “110 in the Shade” seems much more inclined as a singular showcase for Lizzie. There’s no question Reed is a skilled vocalist, although a couple of pivotal acting moments are lost on her: suddenly putting on flirtatious airs with File, or finally realizing that Starbuck’s dreams may not be for her. Moreover, she’s arguably too young and attractive, with a poised and cultivated manner about her that somehow belies a woman like Lizzie, who’s described as being “as plain as old shoes.”

Otherwise, in large part — as when the show culminates with a brewing rainstorm, indicated simply by Andre C. Allen’s lighting, Daniel Terry’s sound design, and a pair of blowing curtains — the results are plainly effective, indeed.

THEATER REVIEW

“110 in the Shade”

Through June 24. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; 11 a.m. Thursdays (June 14 and 21 only). $20.50-$49. Balzer Theater at Herren’s, 84 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta. 678-528-1500, theatricaloutfit.org.

Bottom line: Warmly rendered.

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