These days, lots of American women would rather live their whole lives without a husband than spend their days off tending to a spouse. But 110 in the Shade, a Texas-size musical about a lonely small-town girl who aches for a husband, isn't much concerned with modern women. N. Richard Nash's sweetly dated story imagines a world in which old-fashioned females dream of nothing more than the domestic bliss that marriage is supposed to bring. If you can get past this antiquated notion, the show, with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones (writers of The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical in New York history), is a charmer.
Directed for Theatre Under the Stars with wit and energy by Roy Hamlin, 110 in the Shade follows the plight of "plain" Lizzie Curry (Lynne Wintersteller), a chin-to-the-wind kind of gal who can curse like a ranch hand and cook like an angel. She's been taking care of her father and two brothers for years, and now she's ready for a husband. Problem is, the man she wants doesn't seem to want her back. File (George Dvorsky), the local sheriff, says clear as day that he doesn't want a wife. Fact is, File hasn't gotten over his first wife, who left him for another man. But Lizzie thinks File doesn't want to marry her because she's too darn plain. It takes a hunky mystery man named Starbuck (Christian Whelan), who rides into town one long, hot day calling himself a rainmaker, to get Lizzie to realize how pretty she really is.
This good-hearted, simple romance is made richer with TUTS's strong cast, who make the most of the show's sweet score and comic moments. Songs such as "Simple Little Things" and "Love, Don't Turn Away" capture Lizzie's homespun dreams with tuneful elegance. "The Rain Song" and "Another Hot Day" feature the entire cast and make the story's small-town world palatable.
110 in the Shade
110 in the Shade: The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887
What the Butler Saw: Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706.
110 in the Shade: Through May 21. $27-$87.
What the Butler Saw: Through May 28. $25-$35.
The cast is charismatic. Wintersteller is especially compelling as Lizzie, the kind of witty, big-hearted girl any man would be lucky to have. Whelan and Dvorsky are nicely opposite; Whelan's Starbuck is all muscles and heat, while Dvorsky's File is sensibly handsome with a warm, romantic voice. The real scene-stealer of the evening, however, is Corby Sullivan. He plays Jimmie Curry, Lizzie's sweetly goofy brother, with so much life and joy, it's impossible to imagine this production being successful without him.
Today the world is full of powerful women who can get along just fine without a man, thank you very much. So it's a bit hard to watch a female collapse to the floor with grief at the idea that she might have to live without a husband, as Lizzie does at the end of Act I. If you can get past this kind of thinking, 110 in the Shade will spark enough heat to warm the heart.
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British playwright Joe Orton is perhaps most famous for his grisly demise. He was bludgeoned to death with a hammer by his lover in the '60s. In happier days, the man spent his time shocking the theatrical world with his hilarious sex farces, which feature all manner of risqué behavior. What the Butler Saw might be his most famous script, and the amusing production, now running at Main Street Theater, makes it delightfully clear why.
The story features the sex-crazed Dr. Prentice (Rutherford Cravens), a psychiatrist who opens the show by trying to seduce Geraldine Barclay (Lydia Meadows), a pretty young thing looking for a job in his office. In the order of farce, the seduction is, of course, interrupted by Mrs. Prentice (Michelle Britton), who's also quite the naughty one. She spent the previous night in an unsavory hotel and is being extorted for some nudie photos taken of the evening's events. Add in the fact that an inspector (Robert Leeds) shows up just in time to muck up everything Dr. Prentice has planned, and you've got a farce of the first order.
The whole story takes place in Dr. Prentice's asylum, and the rest of the evening is spent following our misbehaving characters. The inspector mistakes poor Ms. Barclay for a patient. Dr. Prentice tries everything he can think of to keep his wife from finding out about his bad behavior. And Mrs. Prentice does her best to satisfy her extorter, even as she's trying to figure out what the dickens is going on in the asylum.
While none of this is quite as interesting as being hammered to death by one's lover, the show, directed with great glee by Rebecca Greene Udden, with hysterical performances by Cravens and Britton, is certainly well worth seeing.