‘110 in the Shade’ radiates warmth

You may remember a production of N. Richard Nash’s play “The Rainmaker” during the 1991-1992 season at North Fork Community Theatre, and the more recent staged reading as part of the Mattituck theater’s 50th-anniversary celebration. The story has returned to the NFCT stage once again in the form of a musical: “110 in the Shade,” with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones.

The small town of Three Point, somewhere in the Southwest, doesn’t seem to be too hard hit by the Depression. It is, however, suffering from a severe heat wave that has the townsfolk praying for a cooling rain. Lizzie, the only daughter of H.C. Curry, returns home after an extended visit to friends of the family in an attempt to find a husband. Lizzie is plain and a straight-talker, you see, and therefore unable to “catch” a man, but she still dreams of finding her true love.

Her brothers, Noah and Jimmy, along with H.C., try to set her up with the town sheriff, a divorced man named File. Sadly, File is distracted by news of a con man on the loose and doesn’t bite.

And then Bill Starbuck breezes into town, claiming to be able to bring much-needed rain within 24 hours. H.C. hires him. Along with the hope he brings to the town, Starbuck brings hope to Lizzie’s heart.

This current production has a really fine cast, led skillfully by director Dee Martin. Rusty Kransky does a nice, low-key job with File, a damaged man who finds it hard to open himself up to love, despite his attraction to Lizzie, and his duet with her is truly moving. As H.C., Terrance Fiore is simply outstanding. He is able to convey a father’s tenderness and wisdom, as well as his protective anger, with admirable ease.

Stephen D’Amico and Nicholas Troisi are also both excellent as Lizzie’s brothers; they portray the older brother’s rigidness and younger brother’s exuberance perfectly. Ivy Croteau, as Snookie (no, this is not New Jersey), is an absolute joy to watch as the object of Jimmy’s affection. Snookie’s and Jimmy’s duet, “Little Red Hat,” is a show-stopper.

All of the townspeople are equally good: Bob Beodeker, Jacob Boergesson, Abbey Clark, Susan Ehlers, Erin McKenna, Marguerite Volonts and Daniel Yaiullo. Not a weak performance or voice among them.

While the entire cast is uniformly satisfying, the success of this show depends heavily on the characters of Lizzie and Starbuck. To say that both Kelli Baumann and James Stevens have stunningly beautiful voices would be an understatement. I could have listened to them all night.

Ms. Baumann, an attractive actress, manages to be convincingly plain until she is transformed by Starbuck’s attentions into a woman who believes herself beautiful for the first time in her life. The actress creates the transformation beyond just letting her hair down; we see her face shine with confidence and she is indeed beautiful.

Mr. Stevens’ Starbuck is not the blustery, bigger-than-life, full-of-himself character I have seen in other productions. While he is able to whip the crowd into a frenzy, there is little of that revival-preacher feel to him. We sense from the beginning that this con man’s motives run more deeply than simply taking people’s money. And when he asks Lizzie to leave with him, you feel like he really would make a true and loyal lover. Whether these were choices made by the actor and director or not, I liked it. It is unexpected and quite touching, and brings a freshness to the entire production.

The orchestra, led by Jeffrey Wentz, was smooth, playing under the un-miked voices rather than over them, and Charlie Scheer’s lighting subtly enhanced the mood of each scene.

Any community theater can be inconsistent in quality from show to show, but Ms. Martin and producer Marion Stark have a hit on their hands here. I promise this is one you won’t want to miss, and with two more weekends left, you have no excuse!

‘110 in the Shade’

North Fork Community Theatre

Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck

Performances continue Thursday-Sunday through May 30.

Tickets: 298-6328,