'Paint your Wagon' (Liverpool Everyman)

Over the bank holiday weekend I went to see a revival production of Paint your Wagon at the Liverpool Everyman theatre. My mum brought it up randomly and dragged us all there (reviews were good, she loves a good Western and it was something to do) and I was glad she did. I've not been to the Everyman since it was done up, and it's fab. We only paid £10 for our seats but because of the way the theatre is set out - which is 'in the round' and very intimate - we were really close to the action. Liverpool is one of the few cities left in the UK to have it's own repertory company (a set group of actors that are attached to a theatre) and this bunch were great. You could tell they were primarily actors rather than singers or dancers, but you couldn't fault the performances and the singing was great, especially in the group numbers, even if the solos didn't have that musical theatre polish. And Lee Marvin wasn't a singer in the film either - and he knocked the Beatles' Let it Be off the number one with his rendition of Wandering Star.

I'd never heard of Paint Your Wagon before, or seen the film, so I went in totally fresh. The show is set during the gold rush in America and follows miner Ben, his daughter Jennifer (not in the film) her romance with a Mexican who lives on the outskirts of town (replaced by Clint Eastwood in the film??) and there is a secondary plot-line involving Mormons and a wife auction.  The story line was nothing special (and I thought the second act was all a bit confused)  but what surprised me was how great the songs were. Considering I'd never heard any of them before and the original Broadway musical (which was first staged in the fifties and pre-dates the Clint Eastwood film) was a flop, I'd expected duds. But they were really up-beat, catchy and fun - and there were some lovely ballads too. I've been singing the titular song for three days, as well as Wandering Star and They Call the Wind Mariah. The songs were actually written by Lerner and Loewe, who did the score for My Fair Lady. I tried to watch the film afterwards, but it was pretty terrible and doesn't bear much resemblance to the stage play at all. The plot is almost completely different and a lot of good songs are left out.

As well as the songs and the quality of the acting, I thought the staging of Gemma Bodinetz's production was amazing. Considering the small space and the mix of men and women, I thought the costume design was clever as was the use of trapdoors and the gender-blind casting. I especially loved the very tall, very old man casually playing one of the chorus girls.

Paint your Wagon is the first play of four that the company is doing this year, and has finished for the moment, but it's back in May and I'd 100% recommend. They're doing A Clockwork Orange next, and then Shakespeare's Othello - with a black woman in the lead. And if you live elsewhere in the world and see that Paint your Wagon is being performed somewhere or other - I'd give it a try. It was a great show!

Ever seen a version of Paint your Wagon


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