by Terrance Mc Arthur
Paint Your Wagon? Oh, yeah. Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood digging tunnels under the gold rush camp to gather the gold dust spilled between the floorboards, and they…………That was the movie, not the stage musical.
The Lerner & Loewe Paint Your Wagon, with most of its 1951 plumage intact, is onstage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre. The Good Company Players’ production is filled with energy and life, with all the texture and deft touches you would expect from Dan Pessano’s direction. Tough goldminers look longingly at pictures and letters from loved ones during the mournful “They Call the Wind Maria (pronounced Mariah, like Carey).” One man’s shakes from being near Jennifer (Alyssa Gaynor), the only female in the camp, reach near-weight-reducing intensity. A lively dance number during the curtain call keeps the audience clapping in time. Pessano’s name on a show is a good indication of a quality production.
In 1853, a California gold strike brings a flood of fortune-seekers to the town of Rumson, where Ben Rumson (Greg Ruud) lives with his daughter, Jennifer. While the miners beg for Ben to send the girl East (or bring in some women they are allowed to be near), she quietly falls in love with Julio (Ryan Torres), an outcast Mexican miner. Ben buys a wife (Paige Parker) from a Mormon who has two, and Jennifer heads East. Then, the gold runs out.
Ruud is suitably crusty and blustery, whether proclaiming that he was born under a “Wand’rin Star,” spinning outlandish tall tales of the gold country, or mourning his first wife in “I Still See Elisa.” Gaynor is feistier and wilder than some interpretations of the daughter raised among miners, and I like it. Torres is smooth and Castilian as Julio (a little like Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride”), with a voice of steel-edged velvet that tears the heartstrings right out of “I Talk to the Trees” and dares you not to feel emotionally moved.
Camille Gaston is powerful and sweet (as usual) as the leader of a troupe of Fandango Girls. Henry Montelongo makes an imposing gambler ready to make a bargain for a bride, and Larry Mattox (who was in a GCP “Wagon” production with me 15 years ago) is gentle bluster as the storekeeper Salem. Special mention should be made of crew member Colin Clark-Bracewell, whose fiddling is featured in a lively hoedown-type number. Watch for him.
Some audiences may see the script as old-fashioned and a creaky kind of “Wagon,” but the pace doesn’t lag, and Pessano makes sure there is always something interesting happening on the stage.
Paint Your Wagon runs through May 19. For more information, click on our Roger Rocka’s theatre event page link.
In the preshow, 30 minutes before each performance, the new edition of the Junior Company breezes through a dozen songs about various forms of transportation (since Ben Rumson was born to wander), from walking to T-Birds, from roller skates to Mercurys (nice work, Shawn Williams), and from jet planes (excellent singing, Christy Hathaway) to Little Nash Ramblers. It’s a lot of fun, and there’s bound to be a song to make you smile, and the enthusiastic charm of these young people will brighten your day…or evening…or weekend…or life.
Watch for a new Local Live every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.