Here’s how powerful CCM’s 110 IN THE SHADE was: I went to the Saturday matinee exhausted, sore from the night before, and coughing due to spring time allergies. I wanted to see the show, but honestly, I would have much rather stayed in bed. I went anyway, of course, and during Act One I began to invest in these characters so much that even though I really had planned to leave at Intermission I couldn’t possibly walk away without resolution.
This is largely due to the amazing performances. I’ve sometimes been critical of CCM for training their students so well that once in awhile they lose their emotional connection to the material. This was not true under the direction of Vince DeGeorge in this show. At all. Ben Biggers was appropriately sullen, stubborn, and guarded as “File.” Chris Collins-Pisano, one of my favorite actors, was nurturing as the father, H.C. Erik Hernandez’s “Noah” was downright villainous, while his brother “Jim,” (played by the delightful Alec Cohen) practically stole the show with his charm, wit, and physicality. His chemistry with the brilliantly comedic Michelle Coben (“Snookie”) was off the charts.
But the star of this show without a doubt was Brianna Barnes. Her maturity as a performer revealed a deep understanding of “Lizzie” that was breathtaking. Barnes gets it; every time I’ve seen her on stage I’ve been impressed with what she brings to the table – and every time she ups her game. I thought she was amazing in BLOOD BROTHERS; here, though, she proves that she is a mega-star waiting for her turn in the spotlight.
This is a show about a girl (Barnes) who wants so desperately to find love, but she is having trouble. She’s a plain girl, she’s told both directly and indirectly, and she really doesn’t quite know how to flirt. At least not the way other girls in town do. She has a crush on the local sheriff, “File,” but he’s still reeling from his previous relationship and is stubborn to the idea of love.
Just when Lizzie’s romantic prospects look their bleakest, “Starbuck” shows up promising he can make it rain.
John Battagliese as Starbuck brings an energy, a mystical magic, to this character that makes him multidimensional. He could easily be played over the top. Or one could choose to be subtle, with it, and both might work. Battagliese, though, finds just the right balance. You want to like him so much and even though we all know he’s a conman, the audience roots for him anyway. We want him to make it rain – we’re invested in that – for multiple reasons. The way it was acted . . . well, I just wanted Starbuck to fulfill his wild, imagination-infused dreams.
Starbuck brings out a spark in Lizzie that her father (and brother Jim) have never seen before. He gives them all hope for the future and in turn inspires the audience to dream big, too.
I can’t say enough wonderful things about this production. Steve Goers music direction (and piano work by both he and Danny White) supported the show perfectly. The stripped down set and props gave these actors a place to play and create stage magic with their emotions. It all worked.
The only problem with the show is that it already closed.
So . . . take my advice. Next time there’s a CCM musical on the schedule, do whatever it takes to get tickets. I am confident it will be worth the effort.
Up next for CCM is YOU’RE WELCOME . . . A CYCLE OF BAD PLAYS directed by Brant Russell and then we’ll see several CCM folks in THE MUSIC MAN at Music Hall along with Betsy Wolfe and Will Chase. Click here for more information about this CCM Drama production and here for info on THE MUSIC MAN.