Hot and Bothered

Heat can make people do strange things. In the case of the musical 110 in the Shade, on stage at Palm Beach Dramaworks through August 30, soaring temperatures and a persistent drought lead a group of Texans to express their emotions in song, dance like no one is watching, and even trust a shady newcomer to bring rain to their thirsty homeland.

Jessica Hershberg as Lizzie Curry in 110 in the Shade. Photo by Geoffrey Churchill

   With music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones, and a book by N. Richard Nash, 110 in the Shade is a charming portrayal of romantic courtship in the mid-twentieth century. Some audience members will have trouble relating to the play’s outdated tropes, especially in regards to femininity, but a compelling score and stellar performances more than make up for the narrative shortcomings.

   As part of Dramaworks’ Musicals in Concert summer series, 110 in the Shade is presented with minimal costumes, sets, and staging, thus forcing both the cast and the audience to focus on the music. Musical Director Howard Breitbart guides a cast of vocal powerhouses through a textured score that includes a mix of solos, duets, and ensemble numbers that range from gut-wrenching Act I closer “Old Maid” to the saccharine yet catchy “Little Red Hat.”

   As the oft-overlooked “Old Maid” Lizzie Curry, Jessica Hershberg all but steals the show. With such Broadway credits as Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella to her name, it comes as no surprise that Hershberg is able to captivate an audience with her nuanced vocals and genuine emotion. She also has the most believable Texan drawl in the entire cast, imbuing this bare-bones production with a palpable sense of authenticity.

   Other cast standouts include Broadway veteran William Parry as Lizzie’s father and Cooper Grodin as visiting conman Starbuck. Though none of his musical numbers boast the emotional vitality of Hershberg’s, Parry succeeds in establishing an instant chemistry with his onstage daughter. As Starbuck, Grodin is the perfect combination of smooth talker and bon vivant, easily convincing the townspeople over the course of one song that he can literally make it rain for a small fee of $100. Though his guitar playing in Act II leaves something to be desired, Grodin’s vocal range is spectacular and allows him to bring variety to each of his numbers, from the tender “Melisande” to the exuberant “The Rain Song.”

   South Florida theatergoers will surely recognize the two actors who star as Lizzie’s brothers. Fresh off a Carbonell Award win for his role in Arts Garage’s The Trouble with Doug, Clay Cartland plays Jimmy Curry with a humor and physicality that reflects his vast experience in improv. Fellow Carbonell Award–winner Nick Duckart portrays Noah Curry with a blunt attitude that beautifully contrasts Cartland’s happy-go-lucky nature.

   A chorus of townspeople and a standoffish sheriff, played by Shane R. Tanner, round out this energetic cast, which is supported by Breitbart on piano, Christopher Glansdorp on cello, Phil McArthur on violin, and percussionist Julie Jacobs. With the aid of some beautiful projections, Palm Beach Dramaworks excels in making this concert presentation of 110 in the Shade feel as alive, compelling, and hot as any full-blown Broadway production.

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