Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright N. Richard Nash adapted the book of the 1963 musical from his own 1954 play The Rainmaker, working with the team of composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones (whose legendary Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks was then only three years into its decades-long run). The Broadway production did not run long, but the musical has become more widely produced over the years.
Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge has moved the time of this production from the 1930s to the 1950s, possibly to allow Ben Crawford to play Starbuck, the charismatic rainmaker, with vivid overtones of Elvis Presley. Along with the thick dark hair and piercing gaze, Crawford has been costumed by Wade Laboissonniere in tight black jeans and a leather jacket over a plain white T-shirt. The other costumes designed by Laboissonniere have small flourishes as well, notably the red boots worn by flirtatious Snookie (Bridget Riley).
The story follows one day in a small Texas town suffering from a catastrophic drought. Lizzie has grown up with a kind-hearted father (Christopher Bloch) and two brothers, stern Noah (Stephen Gregory Smith) and sweet if simple Jimmy (Gregory Maheu), and has no patience for playing manipulative games with men like the ones Snookie uses on Jimmy. She wants love on her own terms, and that's where Starbuck comes in.
Olivera dominates her scenes with great internal strength and a ripe soprano voice, ranging from the intensity of "Old Maid" to the self-aware goofiness of "Raunchy." (She can also do a split.) Kevin McAllister, with his quiet thoughtfulness and rich, deep voice, makes File, the sheriff, a calm counterbalance to Crawford's bluster and Olivera's deep emotions.
Dodge also choreographed the production, incorporating a precision dance for Bloch, Smith, and Maheu and some flashy footwork for Maheu and Riley. (Interestingly, Smith received a Helen Hayes Award for playing Jimmy in Signature Theatre's 2003 production of the show.) Eight musicians including conductor Jay Crowder provide strong support.