Thursday, May 10, 2007

Did Shade Score Perfect (1)10 With Critics?

Did Shade Score Perfect (1)10 With Critics?

Last evening, the curtain rose on the first-ever revival of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones's musical 110 In The Shade. Helmed by Lonny Price and starring Audra McDonald alongside John Cullum, the limited engagement musical is playing at Studio 54 through July 15.

The reviews for this last show of the season are in, and while most offer praise for McDonald, there's plenty of chatter about whether she was miscast.

Calling it a "modest, yet affecting revival," the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara offers a positive review: "It's an unassuming musical, whose quiet charms slowly draw you in....There's nothing flashy here, but the emotions are honest and after the insistence of such recent perpetual-motion musicals as Legally Blonde, its lack of flash is a relief. Director Lonny Price has deliberately kept everything low-key."

Citing how "Audra McDonald has reclaimed her mantle as the era's premier musical-theater actress" despite being "miscast," Eric Grode of The New York Sun actually comes across as mostly enthusiastic: "Despite her effortless glamour, she has turned Lizzie Curry, a spinster in the making who's 'as plain as old shoes' and terrified of growing old alone, into a touching, forthright, and abidingly real creation....Ms. McDonald is pretty much in a category of her own, with one exception -- a 77-year-old man who has two tiny portions of two not particularly memorable songs. John Cullum, who was starring on Broadway before Ms. McDonald was born, offers a master class in character acting as H.C., Lizzie's empathic father."

Despite noting that "temperature rarely rises above that of a mild spring day," Variety's David Rooney offers a mixed assessment: "[I]t's a testament to her gifts that McDonald's vibrant characterization in such a role -- as spirited, smart and affecting as her luxuriant vocals -- gives 110 In The Shade a touching verismo in the midst of Santo Loquasto's stylized design....Lonny Price's fairly pedestrian production serves up the material largely as is, despite the innovation of color-blind casting in a show set in the Depression-era Texas Panhandle."

In offering up two and a half stars in her review, Elysa Gardner of USA Today explains how McDonald's allure escapes her: "I've never quite gotten the level of fuss over McDonald. There are numerous leading ladies...whose voices I find prettier in tone and richer in character. 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. Watching her Lizzie, it's difficult to shake the feeling that you're observing a Juilliard-educated pro, rather than a plain Southern girl desperate to find a man. That's not to say McDonald isn't a dynamic performer, or that she's entirely unconvincing as Lizzie, with whom she clearly shares a strong will and a desire to please."

Asking whether "a performance can be too good?" The New York Times' Ben Brantley laments that McDonald "threatens to burst the seams of this small, homey musical. Ravishing of voice and Olympian of stature, she’s an overwhelming presence in an underwhelming show....You’re likely to find tears in your eyes by the end of even comic songs. Nothing else in Lonny Price’s production, which officially concludes the Broadway season, warrants tears, either of joy or distress."

While admitting that McDonald's unique casting "comes off triumphantly in Lonny Price's restaging of 110 in the Shade," New York Post's Clive Barnes offers a two-star review: "Yet 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....This 1963 musical isn't fantastic, and never was."

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:

110 In The Shade Shines Bright Tonight (May 9, 2007)
Shade Goes Dark (May 1, 2007)

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