110 In The Shade
Review by Emma Shane © July 1999
It was not so much a case of Lizzie’s Coming Home as "Welcome Back Louise". By far and away the best thing about Ian Marshall Fisher’s Lost Musicals production of 110 In The Shade was that marked the return of Lost Musicals stalwart, the versatile an very talented Louise Gold, as Lizzie, after being absent last year, due to filming commitments. An appearance made all the more surprising by its being a delightful surprise; (knowing Kim Criswell has been gunning for that role for years I was fully expecting her to play it. I like Kim, but in the event I was not the least disappointed), after all there is just nothing like Louise Gold in a Lost Musical. The moment the cast walked onto that stage Louise, once again, displayed a commanding presence.
110 In The Shade, is set in the middle of a heat-wave, when everyone is longing for rain, or a breeze. It was a warm night, and the show started, appropriately enough with the cast singing a heartfelt Gonna Be Another Hot Day. Indeed it was characteristic of this production that the enthusiastic cast sang everything with so much sincerity and feeling. The background company comprising: Jennifer Meldrum, Paul Morrisey, Neil Dutton, Arlene Coyle, Hazel Ross and Ann Adlem; with piano accompaniment by Gareth Valentine.
The central character, Lizzie Curry, an unmarried, plain, girl is coming home, after a week visiting friends in Sweet River. She ha intended to go for two weeks, but did not enjoy it, so come home early. Her two brothers: the domineering Noah, well played by Neil McCaul, and dim-witted Jim, a super-fun performance from Michael Matus, along with their father, an excellent performance from Christopher Benjamin, have come to the station to meet her. While waiting for the train to arrive the trio sing a jolly catchy little song Lizzie Is coming Home. The song was sung with meaning, it was as if the joyous cast were using it to welcome back their shining star, Lizzie. We shared their joyous anticipation at Lizzie’s return. For "when" Louise "is here the house IS full of laughter". (It reminded me a little of the last number in Louise Gold’s last Lost Musical, where the title song Oh Kay seemed so very apt). Seldom can an actress returning to the fold have had a more suitable welcome home. At the end of their song the moment we’ve all been waiting for, Lizzie herself enters. This delightful bundle of talent rushed on in characteristic form and addressed them in a daft cow-girl accent (the sort of ridiculous foolery that Louise Gold is so very good at pulling of, she also has a true gift for accents). The family ask Lizzie how her trip was. At first she replies that it was alright, but by and by we learn that "The trip didn’t work Pop." Not liking the men folk looking her over, Lizzie stayed in her room the whole time, and read the Sears Robuck catalogue from cover to cover. On being asked whether she’d been proposed to Lizzie replied she had, and that she had accepted, though this turned out to be a joke, since the propositioner was a nine year old boy.
The family decide to spend the day at the picnic grounds, and Pop has he bright idea of asking the "widower" Sheriff, Fyle, to join them. They're hoping he might be stuck on Lizzie, since he always makes a point of not noticing her. Left alone on the stage to ponder this, basically Lizzie is a plain girl who has never had a beau and wishes she had, Lizzie sings a heartfelt rendition of Love Don’t Turn Away. This really was the moment we’d been looking forward to: that of the wonderful Louise Gold back where she belongs singing a lovely song. As she sang the lines "There are so many songs I want to sing to you" it was as though this jolly English actress was wooing the audience into enjoying her performance again, as if we needed any encouragement.
Pop and the boys go the ask Fyle, played convincingly enough by Mark McKerracher. However he refuses all their offers, in The Poker Polka. It eventually turns out he just does not appear to want anyone's company, especially not the company of a family with an unmarried young woman. For Fyle likes everyone to think he’s a widower, and everyone pretends to, but they all know that really Fyle is a divorced man.
At the picnic grounds, in the hope that Fyle will come along, Lizzie, who is evidently rather keen on him has put on a new dress. Lizzie is full of fun and excitement looking forward to the picnic. She joins The Company with The Hungary Men, and her voice merged with theirs to produce an extra strong chorus in the second part of the song (the kind of thing Louise Gold has provided on many occasions, from her Muppet Show days onwards). H.C and the boys turn up and have to break the news to her that Fyle has refused their invitation, because there is a crook on the loose, name of Tornado Johnsonn, and he feels he needs to stay in his office and attend to his job. Lizzie is disappointed, and all four of them are finding the heat far too much, Noah is having a go at Jim, which makes Lizzie angry, and she winds up swearing loudly "Hell, Hell, Hell". At this moment a strange sound is heard, and a stranger, who calls himself Starbuck, very well played by John Capes, enters. Starbuck claims that he is a rainmaker, and that for $100 in advance he will bring rain within 24 hours. With The Company he sings The Rain Song. HC agrees to pay Starbuck $100, despite Noah and Lizzie’s protests. Jim however believes in the Rainmaker's promises too, and offers to go off beating a drum for him, he is followed by his girl Snookey. HC agrees to help too, and Starbuck send him off he paint a big arrow on the ground, to protect against lightening. Even Noah is persuaded to go and tie the legs of a mule together. Lizzie however is not impressed. Not only is Starbuck content to swindle them, he has to make a laughing stock of them all. However as she tells him You’re Not Foolin Me. This song was a great number, for two fine performers. John Capes handled himself well, but got rather overshadowed by his co-star in a manner that we have not witnessed in a Lost Musical since Oh Kay. Starbuck criticises Lizzie, asking her how she’d treat a man. She gets a laugh by saying she’d have it out man to man, and he tells her that she’s not a woman. This was followed by the company singing Cinderella, with Lizzie adding the line "Can’t catch me" as she ran out of the scene.
Lizzie cannot fathom why she can never get a man. True she is plain, but is there more to it? Lizzie wants to be straight and honest with a man, and she wants him to be the same with he. That, it seems, though, is not the way you get a man. And Lizzie is "fed up with me", she tells "I’d like to get away from me for a change". HC asks her if she’d really like to be "Lilly Anne Beasley", this had been suggested earlier and Lizzie had been dismayed, however Lilly Anne never has any trouble getting beaus, so maybe Lizzie should try to be Raunchy. Louise Gold handled this number adeptly; after all, she has a real gift for vocal parody, and for performing ridiculous songs. But then Louise Gold could sing a song she did not even like, in a show for which she was not getting paid and she would still sell the song. When she sang "I'll buy some Dime store diamonds and pierce them through my ears", we are reminded that the last time Louise Gold took centre stage at The Fortune Theatre was back in 1987 in the original London production of Nunsense, when she sang "I’d have wigs like Dolly Parton I might even pierce my ears" in I Could’ve Gone To Nashville.
Fyle turns up at the picnic grounds, unexpectedly, and is left alone with Lizzie, who treats him in a friendly manner, akin to Louise’s own. Fyle has come to have it out. He wants everyone to know what they already know. He is not a Widower, his wife left him. Lizzie tells him straight that that is not enough. The people of this town have offered him friendship, and therefore he is under obligation to accept this. She spoke of this with such sincerity that one felt that the actress really believes this herself, and being her mother’s daughter, I don’t doubt that she does.
Lizzie asks Fyle about his wife. It seems she left him for another man, a pale school teacher with near-sighted eyes and weak hands. (It is evident that Fyle does not exactly like people with weak hands; therefore, in this production Lizzie, with her strong hands, is clearly perfect for him). Fyle’s wife did ask him to say “don’t go”, but he was too proud to beg her to stay. Lizzie tells Fyle that this is all wrong, and they sing A Man And A Woman, about how an man and a woman can be so close together, and how that is something that should last. Again Louise dominated this song; and sang it with such sincerity that you feel she really believes this too.
Anxious to get Fyle Lizzie, uncharacteristically, remembers her resolve to be raunchy, and gets rather soppy with Fyle, who promptly exits. Pop and the Boys return, and Lizzie remarks sadly "I made a fool of myself". Pop tires to comfort her. However Noah tells Pop to stop lying to Lizize, "Its time she faced up to the truth" he tells Lizzie "I’m the only one who loves you enough to tell you the truth. Your plain, and you’re going to be an old maid." At his words Lizzie losses all hope of ever getting beau let alone a husband, she has known it all along "why does it feel so much worse when you put a name to it?" Heartbroken, Lizzie is left alone on the stage to end the act with Old Maid. The song was sensational! Sitting there in the auditorium listening to that glorious voice was fantastic! I have not heard anything quite that loud in a Lost Musical in a long while. At long last, once again, we experienced the true spirit of the Lost Musicals. And no, I do not mean songs about Old Maids! The Lost Musicals are unmiked, and acoustically The Fortune is a good theatre. It is wonderful to hear the unmiked, still travelling when it reaches the back of the auditorium, voice of the Lost Musicals answer to Ethel Merman. At that moment our star is back and everybody knows it. Some members of the audience were even on their feet. Louise Gold is truly amazing, and excelled herself. It was so good. It would have been impossible to follow that number, so no wonder it ended the act! And we went into the intermission on a real high, remarking in Louise’s astounding performance. One Gentleman summed it up perfectly "She’s terrific, ain’t she."
Act 2 opened with The Company foreshadowing the rest of the show with Everything Beautiful Happens At Night. Lizzie comes out to Starbuck’s wagon. Ostensibly to bring him a blanket to sleep on, but really to see him. Starbuck is very sweet to Lizzie. Though he does not like her name. He offers to rename her Melissande. She doesn’t like the name, but he tells her "That's because you don’t know anything about it". He proceeds to tell her the story of the golden fleece. To which down to earth Lizzie says "Starbuck, you silly Jackass" (sounding uncannily like The Secret life of Toys’s Raisin saying "Dietz, you silly clown”) and dismisses with "You’ve taken several stories I’ve read in a dozen different places and woven them all into one big lie." Starbuck protests he is only dreaming. Lizzie says that she has dreams too, but hers are about Simple Little Things. Louise Gold sang this song with her utmost sincerity, it was not only as if she meant it, she Did mean it. One wonders what she was thinking of; whatever it was, when she sang that all she wants is "Someone to love me as we grow old." one felt as though that is what she truly wants.
Meanwhile, at the Picnic Grounds, Noah and HC are waiting around when Jim and Snookey, a fun portrayal from Suzy Bloom, enter. Jim is in high spirits and smoking a cigar, which he has bought himself for being a big boy. Jim has finally realised he is only dumb because Noah is brainy, and actually he (Jim) would not be so dumb if he simply behaved like a man. So he does. HC and Noah are afraid Snookey has trapped him into marriage. But on questioning Jim he explains in A Little Red Hat, how it's not like that. It is he who has decided to propose to Snookey.
Noah wonders where Lizzie is. HC reveals, "She is on Starbuck’s Wagon". Noah is aghast she is with a conman. HC explains, "She’s got to have someone." and won’t let either Noah go and get Lizzie, or Jim go and tell her about him and Snookey. He says "She lost her hope back here, maybe she'll find it out there." He explains how she’s got to have something "Even if its only a little while with a man talking soft to her", no matter who he is.
Starbuck is indeed talking soft to Lizzie. He persuades her that she should believe she is beautiful, and then she will be. He persuades her to let down her hair. Since the actress playing the part in this concert staging has cut her hair short, we had to use our imagination. I think we rather missed the Muppet-like masses of chestnut tresses. Starbuck makes Lizzie repeat the words "I’m beautiful". Suddenly finding hat she is, he kisses her, and embraces her fondly, in a manner that was almost comical. The stunned Lizzie wonders Is It Really Me? Louise Gold is such a sweet singer, she can sing a beautiful song full of amazement as if it is just that. Starbuck tells Lizzie he will have to be on his way soon. But asks if she'd like him to stick around a few days longer. Lizzie says she does, after all who knows what may happen in a few days.
Meanwhile, Fyle has turned up to arrest the conman Tornado Johnson (Star Buck). HC tries to pretend that man has left, and also that Lizzie has gone home, as she was tired another family took her back. Noah queries "why did you tell Fyle Starbuck had gone away, why didn't you say he’s with my daughter". HC replies "Precisely because he with my daughter". They must rescue Lizzie before Fyle finds Starbuck. Luckily at this point Lizzie herself enters announcing happily "I’ve lost all my hairpins. But I've found me a beau. Not an always Beau, just a for now beau."
Fyle enters and wonders why they've all been lying to him. Lizzie calls "Run Starbuck Run", but he is singing and so does not hear her. (Since Lizzie is played by one of the loudest ladies in the business that was a little unbelievable.). Fyle goes to arrest Starbuck. However first Lizzie then HC and Jim and finally Noah beg him to let Starbuk go free. As he turns to go Starbuck asks Lizzie to come with him. She is surprised ‘What did you say?" Fyle then asks Lizzie "Stay with Me", she is equally surprised. The three of them battle this out with Wonderful Music. Eventually Starbuck’s dreaming drives Lizzie into Fyle’s arms, all she wants are Simple Little things. Besides Starbuck will keep calling her Melissade. He name is Lizzie, and it suits her just fine.
Starbuck gives them back their hundred dollars and exits, at which point everyone notices it starts to Rain. "Rain" roars Lizzie, Starbuck returns to collect his money "For the first time in his life he has made rain" they pay him and everyone reprises the Rain Song. Their joy at receiving the longed for rain was our joy at getting back our longed for thunderstorm of a singing star, the divine Louise Gold.