'110 in the Shade' plays it too cool

March 21, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Before Starbucks was coffee, it was the name of the protagonist in N. Richard Nash's "The Rainmaker," a romantic play intended to warm the cockles as thoroughly as a cup of

java.

Nash collaborated with "Fantasticks" songwriters Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones to make "The Rainmaker" sing on Broadway in 1963 under the title "110 in the Shade." But the little show was drowned out by the likes of "Hello, Dolly!" and "Funny Girl."

Now director and choreographer Todd Pearthree, who has a penchant for forgotten gems, has revived "110 in the Shade" at Fell's Point Corner Theatre.

Pearthree also seems to have a penchant for small stages, having mounted several musicals at the Spotlighters in past seasons. And, in this case, he has found a show just the right scale for Fell's Point Corner, though that means consigning able pianist Joyce Ohl to a corner and keeping scenery to an absolute minimum.

He's also got the right leading man in Edward J. Peters, whose portrayal of con artist Bill Starbuck is the highlight of the production. Whether his Starbuck is a genuine rainmaker, he's definitely slick enough to turn the stubborn, suspicious head of old maid Lizzie Curry.

Before feminist readers protest the use of the term "old maid," allow me to direct that protest in the proper direction. "110 in the Shade" is a retro musical not only in its old-fashioned structure, but especially in its retrograde plot.

Plain ol' Lizzie lives with her father and two brothers, all of whose efforts hers included seem concentrated on finding her a husband.

Oh, yes, the Curry family does have some worries about the drought that is causing their cattle to drop right and left, but they seem much more concerned that Lizzie will "dry up."

If you can get past the male chauvinist piggies on the Curry family farm, the show does offer one pleasant theme the importance of dreams. And, once Starbuck convinces her of this, Ann Alexander's Lizzie undergoes a fairly credible personality change even if she does seem a bit detached in her duets, both with Peters' Starbuck and with her other love interest, Jeff Burch's hidebound Sheriff File.

Some welcome comic relief is provided by Tom Wyatt as Lizzie's dense brother Jimmy and Kimberly Auty as Jimmy's goofy girlfriend, Snookie. They're particularly amusing in "Little Red Hat," a song about going parking, which the New York Times apparently found a little too racy back when the show was new.

But except for some of Schmidt and Jones' affable songs, the dream theme and the dreamer himself Peters' Starbuck, the rainmaker this "110 in the Shade" is just lukewarm.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

'110 in the Shade'

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. March 24 and April 7, with matinees at 2 p.m. March 31, April 14 and 21; through April 21

Tickets: $12

$ Call: (410) 276-7837

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