New York City Center recently wrapped up its all too brief six-performance run of Lerner and Loewe’s 1951 musical PAINT YOUR WAGON. The production was part of the Encores! series, City Center’s celebration of works by “America’s most important composers and lyricists” that may not be as well known to audiences today. Much like the characters populating PAINT YOUR WAGON, the dedicated professionals at Encores! are mining for gold, and this time they have really hit pay dirt! According to David Finkle at the Huffington Post, “if the musical opened this season, it would undoubtedly win every award in sight.” Jesse Green at New York Magazine says “[r]arely has the American musical produced such virile music, so deeply understanding of the lower voice and its capabilities,” and Charles Isherwood of the New York Times says “the handsome score, divided between boiste-rous numbers for the all-male chorus and fine ballads, contains some serious riches”.
Set in a Californian boom town during the gold rush, this is Lerner and Loewe’s anthem to a uniquely American version of freedom. Told through unforgettable songs such as “They Call The Wind Maria”, “Wand’rin’ Star” and “I Talk To The Trees”, it is the bittersweet story of men and (a handful of women) who have been chasing their dreams so long that they’ve forgotten what they were after in the first place. The American frontier serves as a canvas for exploring issues of racism, sexism, religion and unbridled capitalism.
It made a big splash when it opened on Broadway in 1951 but has never had a Broadway revival and has since been overshadowed by Lerner and Loewe’s later works such as “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot”. The poorly reviewed 1969 film version with a completely revised script and score did not do any favors for the show’s reputation either.
But PAINT YOUR WAGON may just be poised for a much deserved comeback. The Lerner and Loewe interetss were so impressed by the reviews and the audience response at City Center that they have announced plans to record a CD of the entire score, under the baton of the Encores! conductor Rob Berman. Additionally, playwright Jon Marans is currently working on a revised book for a major production at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. No matter what happens next, City Center has reminded the theatre community that PAINT YOUR WAGON is still a powerful and entertaining show with a timeless score. Contact Tams-Witmark today to get a free perusal copy of the script and score or visit the Show Page.