Monday, March 30, 2015

Margin Notes: Paint Your Wagon

Alexandra Socha and Justin Guarini as
Jennifer and Julio. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Paint Your Wagon

Seen on: Friday, 3/20/15.
My grade: B+. Delightful production of a fun if problematic show.

Plot and Background
Ben Rumson and his 16-year-old daughter Jennifer lay claim to gold in California and Rumson town is born - 400 men and one underage girl. However, she's got eyes only for the young Mexican prospector forced to live outside the town's borders, Julio. Throw in a Mormon trio, some Fandango girls, a dried up gold supply, and the wanderlust that plagues all prospectors, and you've got yourself a musical. Written in 1951 by Lerner and Loewe, Paint Your Wagon predates their larger hits My Fair Lady and Camelot. A heavily-revised film adaptation was produced in 1969, starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. Another revised production opened in Los Angeles in 2004. This production was presented as part of New York City Center's Encores! series.

What I Knew Beforehand
Pretty sure I saw the utterly bewildering film version of this, featuring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in some sort of threesome of people who can't sing. As this film adaptation heavily revised the script and score, I went into the show with only a vague notion of some of the songs I would hear.


Play: What I love about the Encores! series is that it gives us a chance to see rarely-produced musicals with high quality performers and a full orchestra. Sometimes these lead to full Broadway productions (Chicago, anyone?); often they demonstrate why the show probably won't get a full production, even while it has something to offer. In this case, the show was truly a lot of fun - clever, funny script, catchy score (I've been humming "I'm On My Way" since I saw the show), and some lovely performance opportunities. It was definitely Encores! at its finest. But that still can't hide how absolutely messed up the sexual politics in this show are. First we've got 400 men lusting after a teenage girl; then there's the auctioning off of the "spare" Mormon wife. Then there are the Fandango ladies who arrive later. There isn't a female character in this show who isn't treated largely as a commodity. Even Jennifer, who has more agency and characterization than the rest, still sings, after her transformation from tomboy teen to well-dressed little educated lady, that she did it "All For Him." I shouldn't be surprised, I know, since this show came from the same men who brought us "How To Handle a Woman," "A Hymn to Him" (aka Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man), and whatever the hell is going on in Gigi. And the show was fun. But damn is it problematic as hell. Much like "A Secretary is Not a Toy" from H2$, this stuff just does not age well.

Cast: Keith Carradine was a pleasant folksy presence as Ben Rumson with a thin, if serviceable voice. Justin Guarini and Nathaniel Hackmann, as Julio Valveras and Steve Bullnack, brought beautiful soaring voices to their songs "I Talk the Trees" and "They Call the Wind Maria." And Jenni Barber and Melissa van der Schyff were hilarious as dueling Mormon wives Elizabeth and Sarah Woodling.


Running: Recently playing at New York City Center Mainstage (Encores series) - Opened March 19, 2015. Closed March 22, 2015.
Category: concert reading of a musical
Length: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Book and Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
Music: Frederick Lowe
Director: Marc Bruni
Designers:  Rob Berman (Music Director), Denis Jones (Choreography), Anna Louizos (Set Consultant), Alejo Vietti (Costume Consultant), Peter Kaczorowski (Lighting), Brian Ronan (Sound),  (Projections), (Orchestrations), (Prop), (Fight Choreographer).
Cast: Jenni Barber, Keith Carradine, Robert Creighton, Caleb Damschroder, Justin Guarini, Nathaniel Hackmann, Robyn Hurder, Adam Monley, Alexandra Socha, Melissa van der Schyff, Scott Wakefield, William Youmans, Darien Crago, Steve Czarnecki, Nicolas Davila, Casey Garvin, Shonica Gooden, Timothy Hughes, Naomi Kakuk, Justin Keyes, Jenny Laroche, Melissa Hunter McCann, Harris Milgrim, Kevin Munhall, Kristin Piro, Robbie Roby, Jason Simon, Kevin Vortmann, Nicholas Ward, Mikey Winslow.

Jenni Barber and Keith Carradine as Elizabeth and Ben. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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