Performed by the Everyman Company
Directed by Gemma Bodinetz
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
Until 14 July 2018
Reviewed by Finvola Dunphy
Photograph by Jonathan Keenan
Having only ever heard of Paint Your Wagon through slightly frayed grapevines, what first attracted me to this show-stopping musical play were the writer/lyricist and musician, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. After the first song, with the audience gaily mouthing the words, I was thoroughly aware that this production was near and dear to people’s hearts.
The fantastic Everyman Company made thorough use of the stage with a digging ground and an elevated live band performed by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited. They plucked out all the beloved classics including, ‘Wand’rin’ Star.’
The first thing I look for in an American play is the actor’s ability to maintain the accent and the first thing I seek out in a musical theatre is instrumentation and vocalisation. To say I wasn’t disappointed is an understatement. The vocals sprang up from the ground level stage with strength and vivacity and the live band filled the auditorium throughout with one scene showcasing a talented violinist, Katie Foster, who elevated Lerner and Loewe’s note right off the page.
Knowing that the story revolved around a sparsely populated mining town with very few women, I was hesitant to see how such issues would be handled. Gemma Bodinetz’s direction brought this 50s classic right up to the 21st Century while remaining true to its humility and heart. There were a few reversed gender roles which went down a storm with the howling audience as well as a reconstruction of the play’s sexual politics. Thankfully this only added to charm of such a homely and spritely rendition where no one actor stole the spotlight.
Instead, something altogether more satisfying took place in which a group of extremely versatile and talented actors with incredible voices came together in a harmony that is wholly necessary to convey this particular type of secluded society, creating an enchanting and charming experience.
The play certainly shines wand’rin’ starlight on issues surrounding the subjugation of women and class struggles that were rife in 1850s Gold Rush era in California. A standing ovation was the least the audience could give to these actors, who had brought them so much joy and excitement, so much so that almost every member was bopping and singing on their way out.
This production is a must-see if you want to experience both humour and heart, and you’ll definitely be off to paint your own wagon when you leave.