BWW Review: 110 IN THE SHADE Brings a Miracle to Ford's Theatre
All my life - wanting to make a miracle
That line spoken in 110 In The Shade by the handsome swindler Starbuck, sums up the conceit behind the gorgeously sung musical. A gem of a musical written by The Fantasticks team of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones with libretto by N. Richard Nash (using his own play The Rainmaker as basis) is about a con man coming into town to "sell" rain to a drought-stricken, Depression-era Texas town, but winds up creating a miracle along the way. Schmidt and Jones' score is far superior to their tour-de-force The Fantasticks, while Nash's libretto is bit on the sugary side yet it is still a beautiful tale of miracles happening in the most unlikely of places.
110 is one of those golden age musicals that's get overlooked and unproduced, the most recent production being in 2007 on Broadway with Audra McDonald, however Ford's Theatre gorgeous new production helps to make it relevant again. Director and Choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge does a monumental job reimagining this story with elegance and poise. Ms. Dodge is known for taking large scale shows and presenting them in an intimate setting does the same here and gets to the heart of the story without relying on heavy sets and keeps the action flowing beautifully.
At the center of the story is Lizzie, a spinster destined to remain alone despite her father's attempt to marry her off. Tracy Lynn Olivera as Lizzie is perfect in every way. She is a stalwart performer in Washington, yet this particular role has stood out. Ms. Olivera's booming voice is both operatic and jazzy, yet she is able to subtly convey Lizzie's emotion and show her journey exquisitely. The score gives her those big moments that she does so well in the first act, but her true gift as an artist is the lightly sung "Simple Little Things" that is so breathtakingly simple in tone and emotion.
The other star of the show is Ben Crawford as the conman Starbuck. Starbuck runs into town "selling" rain just as Harold Hill tries to "sell" a boys band. Starbuck is a difficult role both vocally and physically. The range of the character is both larger than life and quiet and smooth. Crawford excels at all of this and plays Starbuck with an elegant voice and boyish charm. He made a very deliberate choice to not play Starbuck as the suave ladies' man. He took a big risk in creating a very different character and it pays off big time. His rendition of "Melisande" in purely fabulous and his huge voice soars of "The Rain Song".
The third character in this play, the town sheriff, Fife is gorgeously sung by Kevin McAllister. He has a brilliant baritone that resonates deep. Mr. McAllister is a bit unmatched however against Ms. Oliver and Mr. Crawford. He does a fine job but does not bring it to the level of the other two mega stars of the show. Standouts among the amazing ensemble are Gregory Maheu and Bridget Riley as Lizzie's younger brother, Jimmy and his girlfriend Snookie. Their second act showstopper, "Little Red Hat" is delightful and beautifully executed. Ms. Riley also serves as assistant Choreographer, so this particular number shows off her skills.
The design team of Michael Schweikardt (Scenic), Wade Laboissonniere (costumes), and Matthew Richards (lighting) all team up to bring Ms. Milgrom Dodge's vision to life. I have to specifically point out Sound Designer David Budries wonderful job of filling the space and creating a perfect blend of the voices with Music Director Jay Crowder's exceptional orchestra. Dr. Crowder also does amazing work with creating a beautiful vocal blend among the ensemble while conducting from the piano.
All of Starbuck's life he wanted to make a miracle. If anything, Ford's Theatre production of 110 In The Shade is all the miracle he needs.
Photo credits: Scott Suchman