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A remade 'Shade'

The 1963 Broadway musical's evolution continues in Pasadena.

June 27, 2004|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Harvey SCHMIDT will sing "The Hungry Men" at his family reunion next weekend at a country church a few hours from his home in Tomball, Texas.

Schmidt and his longtime collaborator, lyricist Tom Jones, wrote the song about men relaxing at a country picnic while the women do all the work. The song will accurately describe the division of labor between the sexes at the reunion, Schmidt predicts. He just hopes the temperature won't rise to 110 in the shade.

Hundreds of miles to the west, the song can be heard in the Schmidt and Jones musical "110 in the Shade," which is in its latest incarnation at the Pasadena Playhouse.

In 1963, "110" was the first Broadway musical by Jones and Schmidt, who are better known for the off-Broadway "The Fantasticks" and the later "I Do! I Do!" Based on N. Richard Nash's play "The Rainmaker," about a lonely rural woman and her infatuation with a con man who promises to bring rain, "110" ran for 330 performances on Broadway. Since then, it hasn't had many professional revivals, in part because its original cast size -- 38 -- would be too expensive for most producers today.

That cast included a lot of dancers, yet when Jones and Schmidt were writing "110," they didn't think of it as much of a dance show. They had warned choreographer Agnes De Mille, of "Oklahoma!" fame, that it wasn't "Oklahoma!" redux, despite the similar prairie setting of the two stories. She had assured them that she understood. But she still created five extensive ballets -- four of which were cut before opening night.

As a result, the dancers had little to do except "sit around backstage and [complain] the whole time," Jones says.

The tension was exacerbated as producer David Merrick walked around backstage chanting "Agnes De Mille is over the hill," Jones recalls. "He delighted in cruelty."

Over the years, the show's creators were approached by producers who wanted to do smaller versions of "110." But Jones and Schmidt disliked that most of these productions would have interior sets, like those of "The Rainmaker," instead of the more expansive exteriors of "110." They finally agreed to a 2002 proposal by Signature Theatre of Arlington, Va., for a production with sets that evoked the outdoors -- but with a cast that numbered only 14. It opened in February 2003.

For the Signature production, Jones and Schmidt wrote one new song, "You Gotta Get a Man the Way a Man Gets Got." They felt Lizzie, the show's leading character, needed "an opportunity to sing an explosive response" to the suggestion by Lizzie's family that she should be false and flirty around men, Jones says.

"The main part of her problem is that she won't play the game," Jones added, saying that he became more aware of this aspect of her character over the decades -- just as he gradually became aware that he "hates" the controversial lyrics of "The Fantasticks" that appear to take the subject of rape too lightly. "My consciousness was raised," he says.

In the end, the Signature production didn't use as much of the new song as Jones and Schmidt had originally intended -- the first part of the song seemed to delay the show's momentum, Jones explained -- but he still thinks that Lizzie's point is made more clearly than in the original.

He also changed a lyric for Lizzie in the song "Love, Don't Turn Away." Instead of offering to "wash your socks and mend your coat" for a yet-to-appear "love," she now offers to "be beside you every night."

Such changes hardly transform Lizzie into Lizzie Borden. "She still wants to fulfill herself as a homemaker, as a regenerative force," Jones says.

Another song added since the original production, "Evenin' Star," helps develop the character of the con man Starbuck. It was part of the original score, along with 113 other songs that the team wrote before rehearsals, just so they would have substitutes available at a moment's notice.

But "Evenin' Star" was dropped during the show's Boston tryout. Partially restored for a New York City Opera production in the '90s it was later extended to greater length for an anthology CD and then used in the Signature production of the musical.

One aspect of the show that hasn't changed is its title, which Schmidt says he "always hated."

"Tom and I would send David Merrick a different title every day. It would have had a longer run with a title that was right."

The Pasadena production features a real-life married couple, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, as Lizzie and Starbuck, as well as 13 other cast members and a 10-piece orchestra. Jones and Schmidt are planning to see David Lee's staging in two weeks and are also slated to appear at "A Fantastick Evening," a tribute to them at the Pasadena Playhouse on July 12 that is expected to draw "110's" original Lizzie, Inga Swenson, and Lesley Ann Warren, who was 17 when she appeared as the second female lead in 1963.

Today, Schmidt, 74, is retired. But Jones, 76, is still working -- right now on a musical version of "Harold and Maude." With children who are 19 and 16 and homes in New York and Connecticut, "there's no way I can retire," he says. But he doesn't regret his late-blooming fatherhood.

"It has been as wonderfully satisfying as I had fantasized," he says.

That's a sentiment that he believes that the family-hungry Lizzie, who sings of the joy of "simple little things," would understand.

*

'110 in the Shade'

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave.

Ends: July 25

Price: $50-$60

Contact: (626) 356-7529

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