Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus
We all have an image of ourselves. It's the one we see in our mirror when we're at our best. Certainly, we do not look anything like the image in the picture that was taken, perhaps, at a family gathering. It'ï¿½s always a shock when we get the prints -- is that what others see?
In the musical, "110 in the Shade," Lizzie Curry, played by the extraordinary Audra McDonald, has an image problem and avoids the mirror. It is in the eyes, rather, of her adoring father and brothers that she sees who she is, and the image is naturally distorted.
Based on the 1954 play, "The Rainmaker," by N. Richard Nash -- and opening on Broadway in 1963 -- "110" tells the story of Lizzie, a woman of uncertain years who has come home. Her father, HC, and brothers, Noah and Jimmy, have missed her terribly, and take great pains not to mention that she still "ain't never been asked." But the meaning of Lizzie's homecoming is clear ï¿½ she has failed to find a husband.
Undaunted in their attempts to marry off this never-been-courted woman, the well-meaning men pay a visit to File, the sheriff's deputy, on the pretext of inviting him over for dinner and some poker. But he knows a fix-up when he sees it, and lets her menfolk know he's a confirmed bachelor now that his wife is gone.
Lizzie is livid, but according to her brothers, "If it's a man you want, you gotta get him the way a man gets got." Flirting, however, is not the intelligent Lizzie's style, this smart woman in prim dresses, tied-back hair, and lace-up shoes, who knows where Madagascar is. But her need for love is palpable, making her vulnerable to Starbuck, the charismatic con man who comes into the drought-stricken town like a clap of thunder and promises to bring them rain -- for $100.
Played with conviction and determination by Steve Kazee, his Starbuck is rugged and commanding, and his inspirational rendition of "Rain Song" dares the town, including Lizzie, to reach for the stars. His persuasive style convinces Lizzie, not that he'll bring rain, but that she's beautiful. And this stoic woman brings the house down in an uncharacteristic "Raunchy," letting us know that she finally accepts the possibility that she's beautiful. We, however, have no trouble seeing it.
It takes a lot of work and makeup magic to get McDonald to look plain, for even without glamour-enhancing cosmetics, her radiance, like the huge sphere that dominates the set -- sometimes sun, sometimes moon -- cannot be dimmed. She is dazzling, and so is her voice. Her exquisite soprano has those ethereal floating high notes of a musician who knows that the way to get volume has nothing to do with shouting.
Director Lonny Price has created the most inspired pairing when he cast John Cullum as her father. His natural warmth and graciousness matches McDonald's note for note, and the love between them is as real as any you'll ever see on stage.
Chris Butler, as the arrogant and blunt older brother Noah, is unsettling in his rigid views of reality, but the adorable Bobby Steggert, playing the energetic Jimmy, brightens the show, along with his love-interest, Snookie, played by the equally adorable newcomer Carla Duren.
This beautifully produced musical, with Price's uncluttered staging, boasts what are unarguably the best voices on Broadway. In addition to Cullum and McDonald, Christopher Innvar, as the emotionally wounded File, has a baritone that comes from deep in the chest, and when he finally approaches Lizzie, the heavens are happy and bring on the rain.
It's been 44 years since "110 in the Shade" was last seen on Broadway, and seven years since Audra McDonald set foot on a Broadway stage. It's good to see them both back and they light the Great White Way.
Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus
What the press had to say.....
BEN BRANTLEY of THE NEW YORK TIMES: ï¿½Ravishing of voice and Olympian of stature, sheï¿½s (Audra McDonald) an overwhelming presence in an underwhelming show."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "Audra McDonald proves once again she's more than a Broadway star - she's an entire constellation."
CLIVE BARNES of THe NEW YORK POST: "Despite the wondrous McDonald, a good supporting cast, Price's intelligent staging (backed by Dan Knechtges' lively choreography and admirably simple designs from Santo Loquasto), '110 in the Shade' remains a cold fish of a musical."
JACQUES LE SOURD of the JOURNAL NEWS: "This is hardly a winning revival of an old favorite."
MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER: "Not a blockbuster musical, "110 in the Shade" is an unpretentious charmer and McDonald's shining performance lends the show an extra glow."
ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY: "McDonald's technique is meticulous, but its relentless precision and operatic vibrato can make her singing sound studied, particularly when the tunes have blues or jazz nuances. McDonald's acting, too, can seem self-conscious and overeager."
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "In '110 in the Shade,' a sweetheart of a revival, McDonald bewitches us into forsaking the wattage of reality and believing that she's the plainest old maid in Texas."
ROBERT FELDBERG of the RECORD: "To prove that a single actor can turn a modest show into a compelling one, I offer as Exhibit A the performance by Audra McDonald."
ERIC GRODE of the NEW YORK SUN: "Audra McDonald has reclaimed her mantle as the era's premier musical-theater actress. Even when she's miscast, as in the Roundabout's capable new revival of '110 in the Shade,' Ms. McDonald is the anti-diva, incapable of singing a note or saying a word that in any way steals focus from or diminishes the material."
JOHN SIMON of BLOOMBERG: "Hottest of all may be the Lizzie of Audra McDonald. Not hitherto her fan, I was completely won over." & "What makes '110 in the Shade' exceptional is its first- rate score."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS: "This Roundabout revival downsizes the musical a bit... But McDonald more than makes up for the paucity of production values. She's a performer who can fill any stage."
FRANK SCHECK of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "A sweetly engaging work that's impossible to dislike, especially because it offers a wonderful leading role for four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald."
DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "This 1963 musical version of 'The Rainmaker' gets by on its charming score, old-fashioned romantic heart and, most of all, its magnetic lead, but the temperature rarely rises above that of a mild spring day." & "This is McDonald's show all the way, and she shines."
External links to full reviews from newspapers