‘Paint Your Wagon’ at City Center’s Encores

I’m sending you this note on the City Center’s staged reading of Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon even though its brief 6 performances scheduled ended earlier today. I was at yesterday’s matinee and it was such an extraordinary event I want to share the good news that, during the performance, the executors of the Lerner and Loewe estates were so impressed by the reviews and the audience response that they did something no one’s done before. They authorized the recording of a CD of the entire score, under the baton of the Encores! conductor Rob Berman, and the entire company learned of the decision at the same time that our audience did.

The cast of 'Paint your Wagon.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
The cast of ‘Paint Your Wagon.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Any of you familiar with the show will be ordering it early, because it’s a rich and rewarding work from one of our country’s most revered teams. The original production was a success d’estime, but managed a run of less than 300 performances. The Encores! team headed by Marc Bruni and Denis Jones, aided by Mr. Berman who restored, refined, re-arranged the music, and the judicious pruning of the original lusty but slightly unwieldy book by Marc Arcito. With a cast of 20 or more and a stunning philharmonic orchestra, no musical in Encores! memory has ever sounded so vibrant and melodic as this. To extract every ounce of its beauty, a dream cast has been assembled, and it would have been a major disappointment if all that reached its six audiences were allowed to fade away, to be exposed to so few.

Jenni Barber and Keith Carradine. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Jenni Barber and Keith Carradine. Photo by Joan Marcus.

If I were to expound on the major performances I’d be with you all day. Keith Carradine returns to Broadway in full command. He’s earthy, independent, his “I Still See Elisa,” and “Wanderin’ Star” will endear him to you. But he brings so much more to the role, and is the center pole this glorious group of characters. His daughter Jennifer is a Molly Brown without a rich husband, and when she connects with a lonely Julio Valveras treated by all as an outsider, the growing bond between them immediately involves us, ultimately moves us, and their estrangement half way through is frustrating. The lovely Alexandra Socha is all l6 year old tomboy Jennifer who is constantly pushing the horny lads aside as though they were flies. “What’ Goin’ On Here?” she wants to know, and she plays it as though she doesn’t quite get it. Until she runs in to Justin Guarini.

Nathaniel Hackmann and Robert Creighton.  Photo by Joan Marcus.
Nathaniel Hackmann and Robert Creighton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As a young Mexican who’s been patronized and ignored by everyone, you think instantly: “this new guy is special; something’s going to happen with this one.” When you hear him sing “I Talk to The Trees,” it will make you remember it forever. Then along comes Nathaniel Hackmann as Steve, just one of the pack of miners looking for lady luck. He takes on the exquisite “They Call The Wind Maria” and stops the show cold with it. Those of us who’ve heard it before thought we knew it. We didn’t, not with its many moods, the images Fritz Loewe and Alan Lerner created, and here played and sung by Mr. Hackmann for all they’re worth. Another show stopper, and this time performed as a useful assist to the book, for Steve knows who he is, and when he’s finished singing, we know much more about him.

Alexandra Socha and Justin Guarini. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Alexandra Socha and Justin Guarini. Photo by Joan Marcus.

When a stage coach arrives to dump a dozen eager women into the story, things liven further, and Denis Jones takes a feather from original choreographer Agnes de Mille’s cap by coming up with movement for the men, and more of the same for the young and eager females who’ve been stuck in a stage coach and need some — exercise. Release is in the air. And the dance music is all to be on the CD.

I just want to wet your appetites for it. I know I look forward to it. When it arrives on the scene, give a listen and see if you don’t catch that musical theatre high from the pure joy in its every cut.

Paint Your Wagon was performed from March 18-22, 2015 at Encores! Great American Musicals In Concert® at New York City Center -131 West 55th Street (between 6th & 7th), in New York, NY. For tickets to Zorba, playing from May 6 – 10, 2015, purchase them online.


Read other reviews of Paint Your Wagon.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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