42ND STREET MOON SPRING MUSICAL WELCOMES
STARBUCK THE RAINMAKER AND A TERRIFIC CAST
The Gateway Theatre has shut off the air conditioning to revive "110 IN THE SHADE," the 1963 Broadway musical based on N. Richard Nash's play "The Rainmaker." Music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones has a classic Broadway feel. 42nd Street Moon’s spring production features some of the Bay Area’s best talent to stage 110 now on Gateway stage only through May 12th. Directed by the keen Josh Marx, and music director Dave Dobrusky they both bring a cast of 16 to recreate the 1936 dust bowl. The opening song “Another Hot Day” features the entire company, and brings back those innocent days on the prairie, where men still swaggered and every young gal’s sole ambition was to catch a guy and raise a family in a blisstering drought and heat wave.
110 IN THE SHADE takes place in a Dust Bowl town in 1936, in the middle of a long drought. The Curry family is trying to survive, widowed Mr H.C. Curry is played by the accomplished Jesse Caldwell. His oldest son Noah is the bully, practical member of the family, played by the first rate James Schott. The younger son Jimmy is full of dreams and played by the charming Elliott Hanson, who is full of energy in the song “Lizzie’s Coming Home” with his brother and dad. All three are excited to welcome home their sister, Lizzy, played by the superb Andrea Dennison-Laufer, who was off seeking a husband. Laufer sings “Love Don’t Turn Away” as she shows off her keen voice and worries about being too “plain” to attract a man. Lizzy boasts "I want a man to stand up straight—and I want to be able to stand up straight to him!"
The talented set designer for 42nd Street moon and many other Bay stages, Brian Watson plays the plain talking sheriff who could ultimately win over Lizzy. There are some issues with this predictable book, and the score is not particularly memorable, it is pleasantly melodic. “Hungry Man” with Lizzy and cast was well performed with creative choreography by Scottie Woodard, but it tends to be disconnected and too busy when the whole cast is on stage. The book is as refreshingly homespun as warm apple pie. But 110 is hokey and out of step with awkward values, especially regarding women.
Local favorite Keith Pinto plays the handsome con man Bill Starbuck who drops by to swindle the desperately parched locals but ends up bolstering Lizzie’s confidence. Pinto and Laufer sing “You’re Not Foolin Me” and show some splendid timing on stage and a predictable romance. Starbuck has convinced Mr Curry (H.C) he can bring rain to their town in 48 hours as HC hands him $100.00. Starbuck convinces the townsfolk to march drumming, flagging, and rattling into the cloudless sky to bring rain and hope.
Of course, Lizzy and older brother Noah know this is a scam as they sing “The Rain Song” and later “Raunchy” with Caldwell. Lizzy seems destined to spinsterhood – a fate deemed, of course, worse than death in both 1950’s storylines – and who is clearly going to fall in love with the new arrival who is a big con on the run from the law. But unlike The Music Man, Schmidt and Jones failed in creating songs like ”Seventy Six Trombones,” and “Til There Was You,” failing to lift the predictable, story to something more memorable.
Music director Dave Dobrusky’s lively piano showcases the varied score nicely. The leads get to display their dynamic voices. Watson and Laufer are impressive in their duet “A Man and a Women.” The ensemble is full of energy and talent including the charming Juan Castro as Bo, and Kyra Lynn Kozlenko as the sassy flirt, Snookie. The sizzling Jillian Bader, Cameron Labrie, Anne Norland, Danielle Philapil, Ben Pither, Danny Quezada, Clio Salzer and Donna Jeanne Turner fill in for the town folk. Laufer in the anthem “Old Maid” fills the Gateway theatre with her powerhouse voice to close the first act. "Oh, God," she cries, "don't let me live and die alone." Each word unleashes the fear and hopelessness locked inside her, and inside anyone who's ever prayed exactly that.
Pinto’s solo in the tender “Evening Star” is touching and as Starbuck he shines in this “music man” role. The costumes by the gifted Bethany Deal are earth tone and dust bowl friendly. Lizzy dressed in classic western skirts and vests that keep her handsome plain but friendly, the boys are in denim and Noah has a clever colorful headdress. The flirt, Snookie, is in sharp tight pants and colorful tops while Starbuck has the best class entering the story in a blue sequined blazer. The Midwest’s searing landscape is effectively captured by set designer Watson’s bare wood-planked stage, accented by a blazing sun. Light designer Michael Palumbo’s steamy red and yellow warm feel make the final rainstorm very refreshing.
110 IN THE SHADE’s shortcomings are distracting but the fine acting and singing by the company keep this show entertaining. Marx’ direction keeps the busy over taxed cast moving. It is a large cast of 17 to fit onto the small Gateway stage; the craft people of 42nd Street Moon have done it with their past productions yet this one seemed a bit more clumsy. Stage managers Alicia Lerner and Lauren Howry have the cast move some of the set pieces and props on and off and the large cast entered from the isles at times.
Musically, the show could really use a show stopping number. The songs “You Gotta Get a Man the Way a Man Gets Got” and the second act “Wonderful Music” don’t meet that level. As Lizzie finally realizes she is beautiful thanks to Starbuck the story keeps you smiling and the company is smart and talented. The “Rain Song” is reprised to close the story and your guess is as good as mine that you might want you bring your own umbrella. Up next at 42nd street moon is the Bay Area regional premiere of ONCE the musical that opens June 12th. But in the meantime join Starbuck and let him win you over.
42nd Street Moon Presents
110 IN THE SHADE
Book by N. Richard Nash
Music by Harvey Schmidt • Lyrics by Tom Jones
Based on “The Rainmaker” by N. Richard Nash
Director Josh Marx
Music Director Dave Dobrusky
Choreographer Scottie Watson
Must Close May 12, 2019
215 Jackson Street, San Francisco 94111
Tickets are available at http://www.42ndstmoon.org
or by calling the box office at 415-255-8207.
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio