By Billy Tuite
April showers are coming just in time for The Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Stout to put on their production of N. Richard Nash’s rural tale of love and rain, “110 in the Shade.”
“110 in the Shade” is a Broadway musical set in the 1930s in the southwestern town of Three Point, whose ecology is ravaged by the Dust Bowl. As the townspeople lament their lack of soil and food, the play puts the spotlight on soon-to-be spinster Lizzie Curry and her sentimental encounters with local sheriff File and charismatic rainmaker and con man Bill Starbuck.
The musical made its Broadway debut in 1963, and it has since been revived and reworked several times for modern audiences over the past couple decades.
Paul Calenberg will be at the helm once again, directing his 12th play at UW–Stout. Unlike the department’s previous off-the-beaten-path musical “Spring Awakening,” the narrative of “110 in the Shade” will take a more traditional, lighthearted direction according to Calenberg.
“This is a book-style musical in which everything is really integrated into a central storyline,” Calenberg said. “It’s more story-oriented in terms of the characters and the format of the scenes.”
Balancing the nuance of this grounded, straightforward subject matter with the excitement of song and dance has proven to be a laborious task for the cast.
“It is a subtle production: it’s a soft piece about ordinary people who are struggling in a western town and their ability to pull through their struggles,” Calenberg said. “To capture these subtleties while still maintaining the energy of a musical is very challenging.”
Those complexities also bring challenges to the individual performers. Actress Meghan Olson will be taking on the lead role of Lizzie Curry, a self-doubter who is still determined to find a husband, despite her off-putting intelligence and sharp wit. According to Olson, Curry undergoes the most dramatic transformation over the course the play.
“Lizzie is a complex character: she’s deep, serious, intelligent and funny. Embodying all those traits into one character is quite an undertaking,” Olson said.
Actor Jack Lazorik will be playing File, the town sheriff and a divorcé who tries to hide his bitter past. Lazorik must carry both File’s rugged and sensitive nature in a musical context, which is easier said than done.
“Through the music, I have to convey File’s sensitive side, but I also have to balance that with his strength and bitterness,” Lazorik said. “It’s really challenging balancing all of those emotions.”
Despite the challenges, the cast is committed to the dynamics between raw emotion and musical bombast, as they believe it will appeal to musical lovers and haters alike.
“Some audiences don’t like musicals because the characters break into song for no reason, but I think this play will attract a broader audience because of how the musical numbers and the story are interwoven so well in this production,” Calenberg said.
A broader audience is exactly what the theater department is looking for. They have recently teamed up with the band and choir organizations to create The Performing Arts at UW–Stout, a joint branding that will give music and theater a greater presence on campus.
“The department is often overlooked because we don’t offer a major or minor in music or theater,” Calenberg said. “We’ll be launching a new website and new marketing strategies to increase the footprint of the performing arts on campus and in the Menomonie community.”
This new initiative seems to have reinvigorated the cast’s excitement for theater, as their acting, singing and dancing have been top notch, even during early rehearsals.
“I can leave Meghan at the door and become Lizzie as soon as I walk on stage. That’s my favorite part of theater,” Olson said.
Of course, this enthusiasm is aided by the simple fact that “110 in the Shade” is a genuinely wonderful play.
“It’s just a great story that features real people with real human struggles,” Lazorik said. “It’s an old show, but it still works for modern audiences.”
“110 in the Shade” will be performed in the Mabel Tainter Theater April 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and are available at the Memorial Student Center Service Center or online at tickets.uwstout.edu