Keith Pinto plays Starbuck and Andrea Dennison-Laufer plays Lizzie in 42nd Street Moon’s “110 in the Shade.” (Courtesy Ben Krantz Studio)

Rain, romance don’t gel in ‘110 in the Shade’

Ugly duckling story hard to buy in 42nd Street Moon show

In “110 in the Shade,” onstage at the Gateway Theater in a 42nd Street Moon production, things change dramatically for the better for the plain girl when she literally lets her hair down.

If only real life worked that way.

Based on N. Richard Nash’s Dust Bowl-set play “The Rainmaker,” the musical has a universal, worthy premise: If spinster protagonist Lizzie Curry believes she is beautiful, she will be.

But it’s hard to buy as the story unfolds, even as she’s put to the test when a dazzling con man comes to her drought-plagued town with the promise of rain and romance.

Nash wrote the unconvincing, almost paradoxical, book for the 1963 musical, with a not particularly distinguished score by Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (lyrics) of “The Fantasticks” fame.

Lizzie, played with feeling by Andrea Dennison-Laufer, is in a tough spot. Her inexplicably, overly concerned brothers (goofy Jimmy, played over-the-top by Elliott Hanson and harsh Noah, portrayed by James Schott) and more gentle father (Jesse Caldwell) remind her that she’s not womanly, yet at the same time, try to set her up with town sheriff File (Brian Watson), who’s clearly not interested.

Just wanting to be honest with a man, Lizzie accuses Bill Starbuck (Keith Pinto), the stranger who takes $100 from her family as he promises relief from the dryness, of being a fake. Still, she’s not immune to his appeals.

In the show’s biggest number “The Rain Song,” Pinto’s Starbuck, in a blue sequin jacket, is a combination of Harold Hill from “The Music Man” and Elvis Presley.

Yet he’s most appealing in the show’s best tune, “Evenin’ Star,” the touching ballad at the outset of Act 2. Likewise, Watson, who plays a bit of harmonica, begins the show evocatively as the sheriff and townspeople set the scene in the opening number “Another Hot Day.”

Dave Dobrusky on piano provides basic musical accompaniment.

Director Josh Marx has the cast play broadly; Kyra Lynn Kozlenko as Snookie, Jimmy’s love interest, is an impossibly giggly picture of a woman.

Similarly, Lizzie’s big tunes — “Raunchy,” in which she makes fun of girls who get men’s attention, and “Old Maid” in which she painfully laments being alone – feel contradictory, rather than the complex expression of the range of human emotion they’re intended to evoke.

REVIEW

110 in the Shade

Presented by 42nd Street Moon

Where: Gateway Theater, 215 Jackson St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 6 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes May 12

Tickets: $30 to $70

Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org

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