Paint Your Wagon

Date 25th November 2017
Society Starlight Theatre Productions
Venue Tyne Theatre, Newcastle on Tyne
Type of Production Musical
Director Jonathan Cash
Musical Director Andrew Soulsby
Choreographer Jenn Rouse


Author: Michael Avery

It is surprising that Paint Your Wagon is not produced more often.  During the overture I found myself listening to so much music with which I was familiar and which sets the scene, musically, for the story of the California Gold Rush that follows.  Perhaps it is not performed because of that Old West setting, “westerns” being no longer as popular as they once were.  It is a shame, because Lerner & Loewe’s score is attractive, appropriate and evocative.
Following the overture we meet 'Ben Rumson' (Alan Davison) and some miners busy burying a friend, a portent of things to come.  Rumson is something of an empire builder who, rather than dig or pan for gold, decides to create a town to give the miners a place to spend theirs  It is a very macho society, the only female  being Rumson’s daughter, 'Jennifer' (Hannah Elliott).  Racial prejudice, in the romance between Jennifer and 'Julio' (Michael Skoyles) and religious intolerance, in the form of a Mormon family, also feature in the story.
As well as reflecting the hard times experienced by the miners the libretto does have its moments of young love and humour.  Jennifer and Julio make an attractive couple and have the opportunity to exercise their vocal talents, as a duo (I Talk to the Trees) and solo (What’s Going on Here from Jennifer and Carino Mio from Julio).  The Miners, often featuring 'Steve' (Alan Tomkins) have some familiar ensemble numbers (They Call the Wind Maria, I’m on my Way).  But it is up to 'Ben' himself to perform, perhaps, still the most familiar number, I Was Born Under a Wandrin’ Star.  All the musical numbers are well delivered although Wandrin’ Star particularly allows Alan Davison to demonstrate his impressive vocal tones.

The Fandango Girls (and choreographer, Jenn Rouse) deserve a mention, having followed the gold to town. They deliver a rumbustious can can in the newly built saloon but find themselves drifting away as the gold strike peters out.  Costumes throughout are suitably western/frontier, the set for the town depicts a typical western town although much of the action also takes place against just rugged terrain/desert.  Director Jonathan Cash pulls the disparate elements together into a convincing whole and allows all of his cast to engage well with the audience, both individually and as a group. The orchestra, assembled and conducted by Andy Soulsby, made a very impressive sound which filled the theatre but, at the same time, allowed the voices to come through clearly, for the most part.

As a western fan from way back, all the elements were rather familiar but the music and the leading characters moved the whole production along at a steady clip.  I found this to be an entertaining, enjoyable production of a somewhat undervalued show

Councillors comments:
I was delighted to attend the show with National NODA President Nick Lawrence on the last day and we both were impressed in the superb vocals on display by all but especially impressive were the harmonised vocals by the 'miners' - it had been over 45 years since I'd last seen the show - hope its not as long again - because this was really enjoyable.