Saturday, November 12, 2011

broadway birthday PAINT YOUR WAGON opened on Broadway 60 years ago today

When one thinks of classic Lerner and Loewe musicals they think of My Fair Lady, Brigadoon and Camelot, Paint Your Wagon doesn't necessarily make the list. Paint Your Wagon was their followup show after collaborating on Brigadoon, but unfortunately it didn't quite fair as well as that musical which ran for over 500 performances on Broadway.

Paint Your Wagon opened on Broadway sixty years ago today and managed a run of just over 8 months or 289 performances.  Set in the Gold Rush California years of the 1850's, I'm not exactly sure why it didn't run longer than it did as it has an interesting  plot and the Lerner and Loewe score does have several nice songs.  Now, the story is set in a town with only one woman who happens to be a 16 year old girl who doesn't quite understand why she is getting so much attention from the hundreds of men in town.  The men basically tell her father that if he doesn't get her to leave town they can't be responsible for their actions. She falls in love with a young Mexican man which of course her father doesn't approve of so he sends her away.  Add to this a Mormon man with two wives who basically auctions one of his wives off to the highest bidder and a bevy of women "entertainers" who show up at the end of act one to "entertain" the men and you can see how you don't exactly have a kind of show that would seem to appeal to the tourist crowd, especially in 1951.  Maybe that is why it didn't run longer than it did.

 Olga San Juan, James Barton and Tony Bavaar
The plot of the show centers on a man Ben Rumson and his teenage daughter Jennifer who discover gold on the land, stake their claim, call their new town Rumson and before they know it their town is overrun by hundreds of gold prospectors, all of them men.  When the daughter falls for a young Mexican man Julio, and her father disapproves, he sends her out East.  Jennifer tells Julio she will be back in a year and to wait for her.  Ben wins Elizabeth, the younger of the two Mormon wives, for $800, which makes Jennifer unhappy at the way her father is behaving so she runs away, but does end up going out East to learn proper etiquette.  However, after awhile a broke Julio decides to leave Rumson as well looking for gold and when the gold mines in Rumson run dry, most of the prospectors leave town too.  Jennifer returns to Rumson a more mature woman and her father tells her that he needs to move on as well, that he wasn't meant to stay in one place.  News of gold a short distance from Rumson comes and almost everyone but Jennifer and Ben leave town.  However, when Julio returns and Ben tells him that Jennifer never gave up waiting for him, Julio is amazed with how lucky he is.  Ben decides that Rumson is his place and that he will stay put and the show ends with Ben approving of the relationship between Jennifer and Julio with hundreds of people and wagons in the background as the California Gold Rush continues on.

Songs that came from the Paint Your Wagon score include "I Talk to the Trees," "They Call the Wind Maria," and "Wandrin' Star."   The show starred James Barton as Ben, Olga San Juan as Jennifer and Tony Bavaar as Julio.  Alan Jay Lerner supplied the book and lyrics and Frederick Loewe the music, Agnes De Mille supplied some rousing dances (something she also did for the team's Brigadoon) and the show was directed by Daniel Mann.

Burl Ives and Nola Fairbanks as Ben
and Jenniger in the National Tour of the show
Burl Ives also played the part of Ben on Broadway as well as in a National tour of the show and the musical also had a London run in 1953 that actually ran longer than it did on Broadway.

18 years later the show was turned into a movie musical that starred Lee Marvin and Cint Eastwood.  For the film Marvin played Ben but the plot was changed drastically with the elimination of the part of Jennifer and the Mexican character of Julio becoming a white man who was a partner of Marvin's and played by Eastwood.  The female character of Elizabeth, the Mormon wife who is auctioned off to Ben is the same in the movie but she is now also in love with the Eastwood character.

Paint Your Wagon has never been revived on Broadway and is one of those shows that will most likely rest quietly in the background to only be heard from every now and then, most likely in regional theatre or local community theatre productions.  It's too bad as the score has some really nice songs.

Happy 60th Birthday Paint Your Wagon!

Harve Presnell sings "They Call the Wind Maria" - from the movie:

Clint Eastwood - "I Talk to the Trees" - from the movie:

Lee Marvin- "Wandrin' Star" - from the movie:

Opening sequence of the show from the Arizona Light Opera Company's production:

Simpson's spoof of the movie:

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