The title of this Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt musical seemed prophetic when I saw it. Southern California had experienced nearly a week of temperatures hovering around 100 and this cool breeze of a musical provided a pleasant escape. Jones & Schmidt are best known for their long running off-Broadway hit The Fantasticks. They also had a big Broadway hit with the two-character marital musical I Do! I Do! which originally starred Mary Martin and Robert Preston. They also wrote the rarely seen Celebration and Philemon and this musical adaptation of The Rainmaker. Shade had a decent Broadway run in 1963 and starred Robert Horton, fresh off TV’s Wagon Train. The limited 2007 Broadway revival was acclaimed for the leading performance of Audra McDonald, but this show has rarely been produced in Southern California—it’s only the third production I’ve come across in the past 30 years. Jones & Schmidt have never written big spectacle type musicals. Instead their shows are little chamber musicals, with a few characters dealing with everyday problems or grappling with the age old questions of life, love and death. Their shows would seem to be a natural fit for small theatre companies and Actors Co-Op in Hollywood proved them right with this outing.
The show’s best asset is the strong book by N. Richard Nash who wrote the original play as well as the screenplay for the beloved 1956 film that starred Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. His characters and their actions are well established and the cast played them adeptly. The singing voices are not that strong, and are often drowned out by the five-piece onstage band led by Musical Director Bryan Blaskie, but they delivered the emotions and subtext. The strongest voice belongs to Treva Tegtmeier as Lizzie, the unmarried woman who has become a worrisome problem for her aging father and two brothers. She can easily assay her way through the comedy of “Raunchy” as well as the anger of “Old Maid,” but it is in the joyful realization of her own beauty in “Is It Really Me?” that she dazzles. Skylar Adams makes a very charismatic con man as Starbuck, the man who promises to bring rain to the drought-stricken town for $100.00. He doesn’t have a strong voice but his passion brings religious revival tent fervor to “The Rain Song.” Adams also brings a lonely soulfulness to “Evenin’ Star,” a tune added to the 2007 revival and heard here. Lizzie and Starbuck have real lightning rod worthy chemistry in their scenes together thanks to the talents of this dynamic duo. Richard Israel’s tight direction keeps the show moving swiftly, coming in at just over two hours with intermission. He keeps his cast artfully positioned on the tiny thrust stage. And he makes it rain on the cast for the uplifting finale and that counts as a true theatrical miracle.
Actors Co-Op Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St. in Hollywood. Ends June 15. 323-462-8460 ext. 300 or www.actorsco-op.org