Recognized for a potent score that includes "They Call the Wind Maria," "I Talk to the Trees," "Another Autumn" and "Wand'rin' Star," the 1951 Broadway musical is also known for its cumbersome libretto, an original tale of gold prospectors setting up camp in the Old West.
Within that original tale by Alan Jay Lerner, however, is a love affair between Jennifer Rumson, who is the daughter of a prospector, and a Mexican boy named Julio. That romance and some aspects of the musical were retained by new librettist David Rambo for a fall 2004 test production of a revised script and score at Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Geffen producing director Gilbert Cates directed, Kay Cole choreographed. Steve Orich (Jersey Boys) was musical director and orchestrator. Sharon Lawrence starred, playing a new character — a onetime actress named Lily, a love interest for prospector Ben Rumson.
David Rambo remains attached to the project, which producer Christopher Allen has been working on for seven years.
A tour and/or Broadway are goals for the producers, Allen said. A full creative team is being assembled. Gil Cates, producing artistic director of Geffen Playhouse, is no longer attached as Paint Your Wagon's director.
"There's no doubt that the music is spectacular," Allen old Playbill.com. "We got permission from the estate to explore and retool the book. We knew that it was something that could be polished and revamped as something meaningful and timely for today's audience." Allen said that late composer Frederick Loewe had gone on record saying Paint Your Wagon was his favorite score — in a career with lyricist Lerner that include the beloved Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Camelot and the film "Gigi" (and its stage version).
The "exploration" of the material in L.A. included some judicious cuts and interpolations for the 2004 Geffen staging. For example, "My Last Love," a song from the Lerner and Loewe flop What's Up?, was added to the score, for Lily; "Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans" was cut; and the title song from the Lerner and Loewe movie "The Little Prince" was borrowed and revised.
The nature of the script and score are not yet set in stone, Allen told Playbill.com.
"We learned from the Geffen production," Allen said. "As a result of that, Pioneer Theatre in Utah came to us and was interested in mounting the next step…revising from what we learned in L.A."
Allen said he and his producing partners are talking with actor and country star Larry Gatlin (for the role of grizzled father Ben Rumson) and "American Idol" veteran Diana Degarmo (for Jennifer Rumson).
Allen said the cast will likely total 22-26.
Allen, a Las Vegas based produced who produced Beehive at the Luxor there, said a producer friend came to him with the idea of Paint Your Wagon. Like many people, he knew the title and some songs, but wasn't sold on the script. The lumbering film version, which has additional songs by Lerner and composer Andre Previn (and Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees") does nothing to help the reputation of the property — the motion picture is widely considered to be a mess.
Yet, there is something in the property that grabs the American heart, Allen said. "There's something great about the energy and enthusiasm of the miners at that time," Allen said. "There's something about a men's chorus of 12-15 guys singing this wonderful music…"
And, he said, he's looking forward to a great designer bringing out some of the show's visual ideas — romance, the seasons, the land, the exploitation of nature and the optimism of the get-rich-quick (or die) pioneer life.