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Stage Review : Strong Cast Takes Old 'Wagon' For Lively Ride

October 03, 1987|MARK CHALON SMITH

"Paint Your Wagon" is a throwback to a time when musicals were simple-hearted and simple-minded. No flashy special effects or sophisticated themes--just innocuous plot jazzed up with some lively singing and dancing.

That formula works nicely at the Harlequin Dinner Playhouse in Santa Ana, where director Lynn Phillip Seibel has staged an old-fashioned and thoroughly likable revival of the 1951 Broadway hit about miners struggling through the California Gold Rush. The songs are spirited, as are the performances: The energy level is way up there. Sure it's wide-eyed hokum, but it's fun.

There are many things right here--the production is infused with a frontier friendliness and style--but perhaps the most important is the strength of the cast.

Michael Hayward is close to ideal as Ben Rumson, the graying miner who must balance his wild mountain-man impulses against the responsibilities of being a stable, protective father to his pretty teen-age daughter (Judy Clark). Hayward is able to convey both a reckless soul and an almost suffocating (but always loving) attachment to his cherished Jennifer.

The chemistry between Rumson and Jennifer owes much to Clark's performance, which deftly communicates the girl's confusion with her blossoming womanhood (a fact appreciated by every leering man in town) and strong feelings for Julio (Ray Saar), the melancholy caballero who is equally smitten. Saar does a commendable job turning Julio into a sensitive, romantic figure, though it would be nice to see a little sexy dash in what is, ultimately, a rather sensual character.

The production's primitive, idyllic ambiance is fostered by Robert Howell's clapboard sets and panoramic backdrop of the High Sierra. Catherine Beaumont's heavy cotton and buckskin costumes also add to the period feel.

'PAINT YOUR WAGON' A Harlequin Dinner Playhouse production. Music by Frederick Loewe. Book by Alan Jay Lerner. Directed by Lynn Phillip Seibel. With Michael Hayward, Judy Clark, Ray Saar, John Bush, Barbara Carlton, Sandy Howell, Mindy Hull, Christopher David Jones, James Eric, Roger Keller, Stephen Kean Mathews, Leon Natker, Tina Paradiso, John Shull, Lisa Sundstedt. Choreography by Jim Alexander. Sets by Robert Howell. Costumes by Catherine Beaumont. Lighting by Randy Noonan. Musical director D. Jay Bradley. Plays at 8:15 p.m. (dinner at 6:30 p.m.) Monday through Thursday; at 9 p.m. (dinner at 7:15 p.m.) Friday; at 8:30 p.m. (dinner at 6:30 p.m.) Saturday; at 7:30 p.m. (dinner at 5:45 p.m.) Sunday. Closes Nov. 22. Tickets: $22.50-$27.50. 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana; (714) 979-5511.

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