New York’s City Encores has a huge hit with Paint Your Wagon

 Read the New York Times take on the show and look at the preview video……..

Men in weathered woolens and suspenders roister vigorously around the stage, hungry for booze, gold and women — not necessarily in that order — in the jovial production of “Paint Your Wagon” being presented as part of the City Center Encores! series. There’s but a single gal in the gold-mining encampment where the show takes place, at least until the end of the first act, when a stagecoach brings a bevy of working (and dancing) girls to town and the boys throw out a lusty cheer.

One of the founding goals of the Encores! series is panning for gold, if you will, in the history of the musical theater. So it’s perhaps surprising that the series has taken so long to bring back “Paint Your Wagon,” the Lerner and Loewe musical set during the California gold rush.

True, the show doesn’t qualify as a big nugget of musical-theater perfection. Then again, it doesn’t meet the criterion of obscurity. It had a respectable run in 1951 of nearly 300 performances, but Lerner and Loewe’s best-known musicals, the prior “Brigadoon” along with “Camelot” and the landmark “My Fair Lady,” are all much better known and loved, and “Paint Your Wagon” has never been revived on Broadway. The dismal movie version, which scrambled the score and story and starred a singing (barely) Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, probably didn’t help matters. Watch it at your peril.

 

                     A scene from the Encores! production of the musical “Paint Your Wagon.”

                                         Credit:  Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

 

Lerner’s original book, mind you, doesn’t glitter with excitement. But the handsome score, divided between boisterous numbers for the all-male chorus and fine ballads, contains some serious riches, and they are delivered here by a well-drilled cast under the direction of Marc Bruni (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”), supported by the ever-sumptuous playing of the Encores! orchestra under the lively baton of Rob Berman.

Keith Carradine, with whiskers sprouting like sagebrush from his lean, handsome face, plays the nominal leading role of Ben Rumson, founder of the mining town where the show takes place. His voice sits higher than that of James Barton, of the original cast (who was also the original Hickey in “The Iceman Cometh”), but Mr. Carradine delivers two of the score’s most memorable songs, the lilting lament “I Still See Elisa” and the rousing anthem “Wand’rin’ Star,” a paean to the open road, with commendable style.

Mr. Carradine, the former star of “The Will Rogers Follies” and “Hands on a Hardbody,” also seems naturally at home in the show’s countrified milieu, nicely evoked by the set designs of Anna Louizos and the costumes of Alejo Vietti. (Very on-trend: Neck kerchiefs are apparently a must for spring.)

Ben’s lost his wife (Elisa, who is still seen) but has brought his daughter, Jennifer (Alexandra Socha, of the Off Broadway hit “Fun Home”), along on his search for riches. The petite Ms. Socha, convincingly playing 16, portrays Jennifer as a spunky tomboy who’s surrounded by inflamed testosterone (she sings with puzzlement of the men’s peculiar attentions in the comic “What’s Goin’ On Here?”), but yearns for more gentle attention.

Her wish is gratified when she meets Julio Valveras, a lonely Mexican who’s ostracized by the other miners and digs farther off. Justin Guarini, the onetime “American Idol” runner-up who has established himself as a capable Broadway performer, brings ardency to this minimally written character. Julio pledges his love, rather quickly, with the ballad “I Talk to the Trees,” one of the show’s best-known songs, rendered with supple urgency by Mr. Guarini.

It’s perhaps a measure of Lerner’s diffuse book that the show’s most famous song, “They Call the Wind Maria,” is performed by a supporting character, a miner named Steve who barely stands out from the pack, at least until Nathaniel Hackmann opens his mouth to sing this ode to the lonesome West. Mr. Hackmann makes the most of his solo in the spotlight, his handsome baritone soaring over the orchestra.

Jennifer and Julio’s romance is put on pause while Ben lassoes himself a female companion from an unlikely source, when a stern fellow named Jacob Woodling (William Youmans) strolls into town, accompanied by not one but two wives (Jenni Barber and Melissa van der Schyff). (The brief but appealing hymnlike song for these characters, “Trio,” did not appear on the original cast album.)

“Holy Moses! They’re Mormons!” Steve cries. And it seems downright unfair that one man should have two wives when the 400 must do without. So one of Jacob’s wives, Elizabeth (Ms. Barber), is promptly (and willingly, in an attempt to soften the yuck factor) auctioned off to the highest bidder, who turns out to be Ben, cuing a rousing celebration by the men (“Whoop-Ti-Ay”).

Agnes de Mille, who choreographed the original production, certainly knew how to make macho men move, and Denis Jones does a creditable job of designing dances along the de Mille lines. When that stagecoach arrives and the women spill out, there’s an even more jubilant jamboree as they have no trouble finding willing partners.

Rich as it is in energetic numbers for the men — and the chorus here is terrific — the most memorable songs in “Paint Your Wagon” are the quieter ones. Perhaps the musical highlight of the second act is the plaintive “Another Autumn,” gracefully led by Mr. Guarini, after Jennifer has left town and Julio is feeling the chill of loneliness creep back into his bones.

Lerner’s mournful lyrics are likely to give New Yorkers a particularly frigid feeling this year, as this endless winter stretches out indefinitely. Spring may be around the next bend, but when Julio sings of being “alone all winter long,” you may know just what he means.