110 in the Shade continues at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, London until 28 May.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
All Star Productions continues its admirable tradition of dusting off rare and forgotten shows with 110 in the Shade, a musical version of N Richard Nash’s 1954 play The Rainmaker, with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones – the songwriting partnership behind The Fantasticks.
In Nash’s book – he adapted his own play – it’s 1936 and a stifling heatwave and drought is crippling the small southwestern town of Three Point.
We meet the boys of the Curry family as they await the arrival of their daughter and sister Lizzie, who has been on a mission to find herself a husband in a nearby town. She returns, still a spinster, but her luck appears to change when a stranger rolls into town: a colourful young man promising to bring rain to the parched folk of this dustbowl town.
110 in the Shade premiered on Broadway in 1963, alongside the more enduring Hello, Dolly!, She Loves Me and Funny Girl, and failed to set the Great White Way alight.
Its hokey script and simple storyine must have felt old-fashioned even then, and today the idea that a woman simply has to find a man before she turns into an old maid is laughable at best.
But it’s a big-hearted show that has some lovely tunes and, when done as well as it is by All Star’s vibrant young cast in Walthamstow, it makes for a joyous night out.
In director Randy Smartnick’s revival, the excellent Laura Dougall plays Lizzie Curry, capturing the spirit of a young, intelligent, independent woman who is probably just too darn smart to find herself a man (reminding me of Wonderful Town’s Ruth and her ‘One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man’ a decade earlier).
Despite an at-times woefully dated script, Dougall digs deep to create a truthful, believable character, and her desperation and turmoil is tangible.
Opposite her is the equally convincing Daniel Urch as the ‘rainmaker’ Starbuck. A recent Arts Ed graduate, Urch is arguably too young for the role, but he has the charm and the boyish good looks to create a believable character you can imagine capturing the heart of the inexperienced Lizzie.
Their duet ‘Is It Really Me?’ towards the end of Act II is a delight and one of the high-points in the show.
Christopher Lyne plays H.C., the father of the family, while David West and Julian Quigano play the Curry brothers Noah and Jimmy.
Quigano steals the show with his peppy portrayal and his scenes with girlfriend Snookie Updegraff – brought bouncing to life by Rebecca Withers – are pure joy. Their brilliant comedy duet ‘Little Red Hat’ is one of the more recognisable of the songs and is effectively an 11 o’clock number.
Rounding off the leads is Nick Wyschna as File, the local sherriff who clearly has a soft spot for Lizzie but is too stubborn to acknowledge it. He does a commendable job with the character, again despite the tiresome book.
MD Aaron Clingham directs a five-piece off-stage band of violin, viola, cello, guitar/banjo and drums – as ever sounding on top form, especially with Clingham’s warm and stringy orchestration (but no harmonica?!) – and in the intimate Rose & Crown the actors don’t need any amplification.
Set and costume designer Joana Dias, and scenic painter Paloma Hernández, have turned the black box space into a dust bowl – admittedly on a small budget, but it’s more than adequate. And despite the intimate space, choreographer Kate McPhee manages to fill it with the 13-strong cast without any bumps or nudges.
I’ve always liked the Rose & Crown for its bold choices and for the fact that I can see shows that I suspect would never make it on to the stage anywhere else.
All Star Productions is once again to be applauded for injecting such energy and enthusiasm into a forgotten show. See it while you can.