With a Fresh Coat of Creativity, Paint Your Wagon Opens in UT on Route to Wider Life

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28 Sep 2007

A Broadway-aimed revised revival of Paint Your Wagon, boasting a robust score by composer Frederick Loewe and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, takes its next step Sept. 28 when a staging by Pioneer Theatre Company opens in Salt Lake City.

PTC artistic director Charles Morey directs the new production, which has commercial producers attached, and represents revisions since an earlier run at the Geffen Playhouse in California.

David Rambo penned the new libretto, drawing on elements from Lerner's original 1951 script. Songs from the original score have been cut or altered, and interpolations are part of the mix.

The musical set in the Gold Rush American West gave life to the songs "They Call the Wind Maria" and "I Talk to the Trees." Lerner and Loewe would have a greater triumph with My Fair Lady and the film, "Gigi," and also penned the popular musicals Camelot and Brigadoon.

Emily Rabon Hall and Enrique Acevedo are the star-crossed lovers — she's an Anglo prospector's daughter, he's a Mexican boy — in the Utah production at the respected resident Equity theatre of Salt Lake City. A preview played Sept. 27 prior to the Sept. 28 opening night. Performances continue to Oct. 13.



The commercial producers announced (rather indelicately during Pioneer rehearsals) that Scott Schwartz would direct the post-Utah staging with an eye toward Broadway, London and a tour. No dates or future production details have been released.

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Hall (who appeared in Follies on Broadway in 2001) plays tomboy Jennifer Rumson, whose father, Ben, played by Dennis Parlato, is a prospector. There's trouble in the mountains when Jennifer falls for Mexican boy, Julio, played by Acevedo (a veteran of California Music Circus' West Side Story, The King and I, Paint Your Wagon). Ben, meanwhile, falls for Lily (played by PTC favorite Anne Stewart Mark, of the company's recent hit, Les Miserables), one of the women in the mining town.

Parlato is a Broadway vet who appeared in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, A Chorus Line, Chess and the recent Sound of Music. He also appeared on TV's "The Guiding Light."

This rewrite, with a new book by David Rambo (playwright of God's Man in Texas, among others and a writer/producer on the TV series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"), has been in the works for several years and has evolved beyond its earlier 2004 staging in Los Angeles.

Book and lyrics are by Alan Jay Lerner, music is by Frederick Loewe. Orchestrations are by Tony Award nominee Steve Orich (Jersey Boys), who has also been attached for several years. The Pioneer production is in association with Christopher Allen, D. Constantine Conti, and Larry Spellman, who will take the show on to a commercial future.

The Pioneer Theatre Company production of Paint Your Wagon will feature Max Robinson as Wilmer Wagner/Old Prospector; Erick Pinnick as Ulysses Wilson; Mark Mineart as Bull Bullnack; Daniel Marcus as L. Salem Strauss; Terrance Goodman as Jake Whippany; Jacqueline Bayne as Cherry Jourdel; Justin Ivie as Preacher McNulty/Woodling; Kelvin Moon Loh as Ah Wah, with Jessica Wu, Elizabeth Clinard, Teresa Bramwell, Rebecca Lord, Kim Stephenson, Vanessa Cheney, Daniel T. Simons, Buck Hujabre, Mike Kirsch, Shaun Parry, Correy West, Zephyrus White, Peter Leskowicz, Thomas Marcus and Jon Copier.

The PTC Paint Your Wagon creative team includes Patti D'Beck (choreographer), Mearle Marsh (musical supervisor/conductor), Annie Lebeaux (musical director), George Maxwell (scenic designer), David Kay Mickelsen (costume designer), Phil Monat (lighting designer), Joe Payne (sound designer), Amanda French (hair and makeup designer), Paul Kiernan (fight director).

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"We've been in discussions with commercial producer Christopher Allen for almost five years now about the possibility of producing a revised version of Paint Your Wagon as a potential jumping-off point for a national tour or Broadway revival," PTC's artistic director Charles Morey said in a previous statement. "The fabulous songs from the original 1951 Broadway musical are still there…but the book and orchestrations have been revised significantly to solve some of the problems with the original story."

According to Pioneer production notes, "It's 1852, and Ben Rumson is looking to strike it rich in the gold fields of California. He has raised his daughter Jennifer in the gold camps, and she has become a beautiful, if somewhat tomboy-ish, young woman. She's also the only woman for miles around, and some of the miners have become skittish around her. One day she meets and falls in love with Julio, a handsome young Mexican miner. When a lecherous miner with designs on Jennifer discovers that she loves Julio, he frames Julio as a gold thief, forcing them to run off together. Meanwhile, Ben strikes it rich, and an enterprising miner imports some beautiful 'fandango' girls to keep the miners entertained. Ben finds himself falling in love with the lead fandango girl. The story plays out against some of the most striking and memorable show tunes in Broadway history…"

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In 2005, Playbill.com reported that producers Christopher Allen, D. Constantine Conte and Larry Spellman had been seeking a next-step production of their Broadway-aimed "revisal," following a 2004 run at Geffen Playhouse in California.

Recognized for a potent score that includes "They Call the Wind Maria," "I Talk to the Trees," "Another Autumn" and "Wand'rin' Star," the Broadway musical is also known for its cumbersome libretto, an original tale of gold prospectors setting up camp in the Old West.

"There's no doubt that the music is spectacular," Allen previously told 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.

For the Geffen run, "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 Pioneer staging offers a different song order, re-inserts "Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans," and still includes the tune from "The Little Prince" — the song "My Little Prince" has been re-imagined here as "My Little Girl." "My Last Love" is not in the playbill anymore.)

"We learned from the Geffen production," Allen previously 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, 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 1969 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.

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.

For more information about Pioneer Theatre Company's Paint Your Wagon and the 2007-08 season, visit www.pioneertheatre.org.