It's fun to reconnect with an old friend.
For the fourth time in four decades, Good Company Players is staging "Paint Your Wagon." Yes, there are sure to be some who sigh at one more repeat of a classic musical.
But there are many people (especially among audiences at Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater, who flock to so-called "boot" shows with Old West themes) excited at the prospect of reacquainting themselves with this light-hearted 1951 show set in the California Gold Rush. For those familiar with the show, it's like being able to pick up right where you left off with a friend you haven't seen in a long time.
Of course, there are those who have never seen "Paint Your Wagon" and are looking forward to their first experience. With them in mind -- and to remind those longtime fans whose memories of the show have gotten a little fuzzy -- we offer this roundup of five reasons why people love this show.
1. What do they call the wind? If you answered "Maria" -- pronounced "Mar-i-ah" -- then you've absorbed through pop culture the show's best known song. Songwriting greats Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote "They Call the Wind Maria" for the musical, and it went on to be recorded by many artists from Robert Goulet to the Kingston Trio.
The song is a plaintive ballad sung by some of the single men in the show -- all miners who have flocked to a boom town in California's Gold Rush country -- longing for female companionship. GCP's Tyler Branco starts off the song in this production, then is joined by the others.
2. And ... there's more than just one great song: There's a reason why Lerner and Loewe are considered among the composers associated with the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. The songwriting team is responsible for such beloved titles as "Brigadoon," "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot."
In "Paint Your Wagon," well-known tunes include "Wand'rin' Star" and "I Talk to the Trees."
3. Big dreams: The show's storyline, which follows the amusing repercussions of what happens when a prospector's daughter winds up as the only woman in a town of 400 men, might be rooted in the past, but some themes are timeless.
GCP veteran Greg Ruud plays the central character of Ben, the prospector whose daughter finds gold dust. Some folks might be content to settle down for good after such fortune, but Ben is the kind of guy who is always looking forward to another adventure.
"He's always dreaming of the next big strike," Ruud says of his character.
In many ways, Americans continue to cherish the frontier mentality, and this show hints at the golden possibilities beyond the next bend.
4. People fondly remember the movie: The 1969 film, which starred Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, tinkered a lot with the play's storyline, and it didn't make much "gold" for its studio. But it kept the beloved songs. (Interestingly, director Joshua Logan was roundly criticized for casting actors not known for their singing voices in a musical: shades of Russell Crowe in "Les Misérables"?)
5. Yes, the script is dated. But that's part of the fun: "Paint Your Wagon" isn't exactly an example of enlightened attitudes toward women. The storyline includes a Mormon man with two wives, one of whom is sold off. The script tends to merrily glide over such issues, angling for comic effect instead. But while there's a certain creakiness in evidence, there's also a genuine warmth to the show, thanks to all that glorious music.
After all, we drive Priuses today, not wagons. It can still be pleasant, however, to roll along a well-worn trail back in time to a very different California.
"Paint Your Wagon," through May 19, Roger Rocka's Dinner Theatre, 1226 N. Wishon Ave., gcplayers.com, (559) 266-9494. Tickets: $29-$49.
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