Of all the productions staged as part of the Everyman Rep’s inaugural season, Fiddler on the Roof remains a favourite with many audience members.
And the team that brought that musical epic to the intimate in-the-round atmosphere of the Everyman are hoping Paint Your Wagon – which has opened the new Rep season – will strike a similar chord.
In fact, the little-performed musical has similarities with Fiddler, concentrating once again on a community of outsiders – then, a small Jewish community in Czarist Russia, now, a rough band of panners in Gold Rush-era California.
“For me, choosing, that was very much it, a community,” explains director Gemma Bodinetz. “And a community of ‘real’ people, and of non-perfect people, miners.”
There are certainly some ‘non-perfect’ themes in a show set in the 1850s and written in 1951, including the treatment of women in society, and the racism which sees Mexican gold prospector Julio (played by Marc Elliott) ostracised from a group that in some ways is itself outside the normal polite ‘society’ itself.
Director Gemma Bodinetz in rehearsals for Paint Your Wagon. Photos by Brian Roberts.
Julio, and his love story with Jennifer (played by Emily Hughes who impressed in Fiddler last season), daughter of miner Ben Rumson, was in fact completely exorcised from the film version of the musical.
It might not be the only surprise for audiences who are only au fait with Lee Marvin and his being born under a Wand’rin’ Star.
Because while there are issues around sexism, race and ravaging the Earth of its resources, Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon also offers a rollicking good time.
“I read an awful lot in preparation for choosing,” reveals Bodinetz. “It’s very funny. Quite a lot of books in musical theatre aren’t particularly witty, and this does have some witty dialogue.”
It’s also a story which is male character heavy. Jennifer is the only woman in town for much of the first half of the show, and with a company of eight men and six women, that has been one challenge for the creative team.
“I think one of the things I felt after Fiddler was that I wish I’d actually pushed a little bit more some of the gender swapping and people playing against what they are,” Bodinetz admits. “Because that again releases a language that allows the audience to understand the communal endeavour that this is for the company.
Marc Elliott plays Julio. Photo by Brian Roberts.
“It also releases some of the audience from wanting the perfection of what someone is. They’re looking at the transformative acting. And there’s a lot more of that here.”
There’s also plenty of movement and dancing – the original Broadway choreography was created by Agnes deMille, niece of Hollywood mogul Cecil B DeMille, and grand-daughter of literary agent and screenwriter Beatrice deMille, born Matilda Beatrice Samuel just down the road from Hope Street, in Toxteth in 1853.
Tom Jackson Greaves, who also choreographed Fiddler, is the man behind the movement in this new production.
“Agnes DeMille is kind of iconic in classical musical theatre and developing dance in musicals,” he says. “In some ways she really took dance and made it tell a story in musicals, which influenced tons of people. I know for a fact it completely influenced Matthew Bourne in the work he makes, which is storytelling through dance.
“You can tell she’s all over this show. It’s one of the only musicals I’ve ever worked on where there’s chunks of music that are completely instrumental, and they are treated as a scene.
“Which for me is a gem and a complete dream.”
Paint Your Wagon is at the Liverpool Everyman now. Tickets from the website HERE