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TO NOVEMBER 5

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This Sinclair Lewis-inspired musical about evangelical charlatans has the best first act-and-a-half of any non-Sondheim musical to play Washington in years. Alas, there’s that last half-act to contend with, and it’s lackluster enough to leave patrons who’ve been cheering all night long mystified at what happened to the show they buzzed so animatedly about at intermission. The country-flavored score is back at Ford’s after six years’ worth of tinkering that has polished most of it to a fare-thee-well. As interpreted by its stellar original leading lady, Sharon Scruggs, and an extraordinary new leading man, John Dosset (late of Kiss of the Spider Woman), who sings the hell out of Elmer’s hellfire-and-damnation orations, the music raises the rafters about as often as anyone could wish. And the book works efficiently enough until the second act, when it suddenly needs to introduce a new character so it can kill him off and work up to a conflagration the production isn’t quite up to providing. Still, the secondary cast is strong, the material plays with assured professionalism, and the emotional heat’s strong enough to ward off the chill of fall. Now if they can just fix that ending. At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; matinees at 1 p.m. Thursday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Ford’s Theater, 511 10th St. NW. $24-36. (202) 347-4833. (Bob Mondello)