There’s a line in the musical 110 in the Shade where the central character, Lizzie Curry, describes her perfect husband: “I want him to stand up straight—and I want to be able to stand up straight to him!”
It’s a very telling description from the character, as Lizzie is not your typical ingénue.
“They don’t really write roles like Lizzie anymore. It’s a really great role for a woman in musical theater,” says her portrayer, Tracy Lynn Olivera. “She’s a funny, strong female lead, written at a time when there weren’t a lot of those around. She’s got balls, but it’s a soprano role; a perfect combination.”
Based on N. Richard Nash’s 1954 play The Rainmaker, 110 in the Shade is a musical which opened on Broadway in 1964 and earned Tony nominations for its writers – the famed Fantasticks team of Tom Jones (lyrics), and Harvey Schmidt (music) – and its cast.
Lizzie Curry is a spinster living on a ranch in the American southwest, who finds herself torn between local sheriff File, a cautious divorcée who fears being hurt again, and charismatic con man Bill Starbuck, a “rainmaker” who promises the locals he can bring relief to the drought-stricken area.
Lizzie wants nothing more than to find love and have a family.
“She wants what she wants and is very grounded,” Olivera says. “She has the same insecurities every woman has. She has an essence I think all women can relate to—especially for us in the theater. We are confronted with feeling not so good about our bodies and ourselves all the time.”
That’s an issue that Olivera hopes becomes less and less as the years go by, citing a recent favorite commercial of hers that praises confidence as being the new sexy and beautiful.
“You have to believe in yourself. To me, one of the big messages of this play is you have to stand up for what you believe in,” she says. “Lizzie’s big dream is not very big to some people—she just wants to have a family—and I think a big message is you can do whatever you want, big or small.”
It’s a message that speaks a lot to Olivera, who is married to actor Evan Casey and has a young child.
“I was often told in the past that you can’t have a career and a family and you absolutely can,” she says. “I think sometimes as a woman, wanting little things like a family, is sometimes frowned upon. As long as you are true to yourself, you can make it work.”
A local theater favorite, Olivera pursued acting at Catholic University and has been regularly featured at Signature Theatre in shows from Gypsy and Company to Les Misérables. She also was in the ensemble in The Kennedy Center production of Ragtime in the spring of 2009 and when that production opened on Broadway November 15, 2009.
“It was awesome. I was struck that it wasn’t much different than any other night, other than it was on a grandeur scale, but it was really cool,” she says. “I remember standing there with my friend during our first preview and I had tears in my eyes.”
While she admits performing on the Great White Way was “magical,” it did open her eyes to how much she loved living and working in DC. Performing here gives her the chance to work at incredible theaters and take on numerous great roles over the course of a year.
Like Lizzie in Ford’s current production of 110 in the Shade.
“Ford’s is just a great place to work—it’s so much history and a magical place to work as an actor,” she says. “It has so much attached to it and that’s a cool thing and a great space to work in.”
The musical is directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who Olivera also worked with in Ragtime.
Olivera is also grateful that Dodge cast her in the role, admitting that she might not be what everyone thinks of when envisioning the love interest of a play. But most in the DC community seem to be able to think outside of the box and take some risks.
“Sometimes people don’t want to cast a size-14 girl as a love interest, which is funny because 75 percent of women are above a size 10, and there is a stigma on casting larger women in the ‘love’ role sometime,” she says. “I hope that people—girls especially—know that you can be beautiful no matter what you are shaped like. I know Ford reaches such a wide audience and I hope little girls go back to their high schools wherever they’re from, and know they can be beautiful. If people take that away, we’ll have done something right.”