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A CurtainUp Review
Encores! Paint Your Wagon
I sure wish your mother was here. She'd know what to do. She was a real lady. She could read and she could write, just like you will someday. And she talked softer than a leaf hittin' water.
— Ben, his teenaged daughter Jennifer who he knows no longer fits into the rough-and-tumble, all-male world. His quandary leads to his solo ballad about his gone wife which leads to his solo ballad "I Still See Elisa."
Alan Jay Lerner's book for
Paint Your Wagon is too heavy on the cringe factor to rank his and Frederic Lowe's 1951 musical at the top their canon.
But there's plenty of gold to be mined from this minor miner musical's terrific score.
Keith Carradine and Alexandra Socha (Photo: Joan Marcus)
And Encores! has indeed struck gold, with Mark Bruni's streamlined production. The sets are minimal, but charmingly so. The cast and the always on stage Encores! orchestra are satisfyingly large and terrific. That goes for the central characters, grizzly widowed miner Ben Rumson and his pretty sixteen-year-old daughter Jennifer played by old-timer and in fine voice Keith Carradine and the delightful Alexandra Socha (Someone write a new show to star her in please!). But it also applies to the entire ensemble. All have the vocal power — and then some— to make you wish you could hear their renditions of solo, duet and ensemble ear-clingers like "They Call the Wind Maria," "I Talk to the Trees", "I Still See Elisa" and "Wand'rin' Star" again and again.
Besides the aural pleasures, there's also the beautifully executed choreography by Denis Jones, notably as gorgeous a dream ballet and as lively a Can-Can number as you're likely to find on any stage.
Actually, the story is no sillier than
On the Twentieth Century
currently revived on Broadway. But despite the colorful revisit to the gold rush days, the plot complications are irredeemably flawed attempts to use a musical to address social issues: a town full of sexually frustrated miners lusting after a pretty teenager and jealously forcing a Mormon arrival to auction off one of his wives . . . those nifty can-can dancers being a handful of prostitutes obviously brought in to service all those men . . .and a romantic lead ( who turns out not to be a Mexican but a noble Castilian.
Despite the flawed libretto, Paint Your Wagon did have a limited Broadway run, but a terrible movie version with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood helped to bury any chances of any New York revivals. This, of course, makes it a natural for Encores!. . . not a natural in the sense of serving as a testing of its Broadway transfer potential, but to showcase its assets.
Since Mr. Bruni has wisely refrained from trying to fix the book's politically incorrect problems, the emphasis on this Paint Your Wagon is to
present it within the context of its creation at a particular time in musical theater history. And it works. At a brisk two hours and five minutes, this is a spectacularly enjoyable wagon ride to a long-gone time, buoyed by soaring singing and dancing.
The imbalance of sexes in the cast is actually a big plus. It provides some truly drop dead male ensemble numbers, like the opening "I'm On My Way" and "They Call the Wind Mariah" led by the powerhouse Steve Bullnak. Choreographer Jones's graceful choreography for the men is a welcome respite from the much plauded synchronized, stomping style of Stephen Hoggett.
What's probably the show's best known song, "I Sing to the Trees" is echoed by the trees backing the on-stage orchestra. And it's movingly sung by Alexandra Socha and Justin Guarini (As long as we're back in the golden oldie movie era here, the handsome, silken voiced Guarini is a cross between Tony Martin and Louis Jordan).
I'm posting this as Paint Your Wagon is ending it's as usual all too brief run. But while those who missed it are unlikely to see another again any time soon, the company did announce that there would be a recording. So, yes you can hear the Encores! singers singing again and again. Hurrah!
Paint Your Wagon|
Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Marc Bruni
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Music director: Rob Berman
Cast: Jenni Barber (Elizabeth Woodling), Keith Carradine (Ben Rumson), Robert Creighton (Mike Mooney), Caleb Damschroder (Jake Whippany), Justin Guarini (Julio Valveras), Nathaniel Hackmann (Steve Bullnack), Robyn Hurder (Cherry Jourdel), Adam Monley (Edgar Crocker), Alexandra Socha (Jennifer Rumson), Melissa van der Schyff (Sarah Woodling), Scott Wakefield (Sandy Twist) and William Youmans (Jacob Woodling). Also, 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 and Mikey Winslow.
Music director: Rob Berman
Costumes: Alejo Vietti
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound: Brian Ronan
Concert adaptation: Marc Acito
Music coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Stage Manager: Monica A. Cuoco
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with the intermission
City Center Encores!
From 3/18/15 to 3/22/15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 3/21 matinee performance
Overture /The Encores! Orchestra
I'm On My Way/ Men
Rumson / Keith Carradine
What's Goin' On Here? /Alexandra Socha
I Talk to the Trees/Justin Guarini and Alexandra Socha
They Call the Wind Maria /Nathaniel Hackmann and Men
I Still See Elisa/ Keith Carradine
How Can I Wait?/ Alexandra Socha
Trio/Jenni Barber, William Youmans and Melissa van der Schy.
Rumson (Reprise)/ Keith Carradine
In Between/Keith Carradine
Whoop-Ti-Ay/ Keith Carradine, Jenni Barber and Men
Carino Mio/Justin Guarini and Alexandra Socha
There's a Coach Comin' In/Men
Fandangos' Dance/ Ensemble
Entr'acte /The Encores! Orchestra
Hand Me Down that Can O' Beans/Caleb Damschroder,
Keith Carradine and Ensemble
Can-Can/Jenny Laroche and Ensemble
Another Autumn /Nathaniel Hackmann and Justin Guarini;
Danced by Kevin Munhall and Darien Crago
All For Him/Alexandra Socha
Wand'rin' Star/ Keith Carradine
I Talk to the Trees (Reprise)/ Alexandra Socha
Rumson (Reprise)/ Keith Carradine
The Strike/ Nathaniel Hackmann, Caleb Damschroder and Men
- Wand'rin' Star (Reprise)/Men
Finale/ Keith Carradine and Company
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