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Striking Scoring

There's Gold of the Musical Vein in That Thar Production of 'Paint Your Wagon'


FULLERTON — When Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's first collaboration, "Paint Your Wagon," opened on Broadway in 1951, its score was heralded for its originality and beauty. The book, however, was dismissed as weak.

The songs, including "I Talk to the Trees" and "They Call the Wind Maria," still glitter, and an energetic Fullerton Civic Light Opera production at Plummer Auditorium shows the book, while still slight, provides a fairly entertaining framework for the music.

This is a fine revival of a seldom-done Broadway classic, backed by an orchestra with the Broadway sound, under musical director Benton Minor. And through the solid casting of director Jan Duncan, it has three leads that breathe some of the same magic into the beautiful score that made the original production so memorable.

Duncan keeps things moving smoothly and in spirited tempos, as does choreographer Sha Newman, whose dances are mostly macho for the miners of Rumson Creek, and pretty flashy for the Fandango Girls and their cancan.

The story begins with the discovery of gold atop a grave while Ben Rumson (Bob Lauder Jr.) is saying last words over a dead miner. In no time at all, the town he founds is thriving with more than 900 miners hungry for instant wealth. His teenage daughter, Jennifer (Elna Binckes), eventually has to be sent back East to school to protect her from the raging hormones of the men, but before that happens, she falls for a lonely young Mexican miner, Julio Valveras (Enrique Acevedo), who lives in a cabin far up the mountainside.

That's about all there is to it, until the gold runs out and Lerner conveniently ties up all the loose ends happily and romantically. Lerner comments on the American encroachment in California, and the displacement of its Mexican population, and also about the greedy dream of men for unattainable wealth. But the score remains the biggest nugget in this mine.

Lauder is laid-back and comfortable as Ben, with just the right tone of gentleness. His big, rich bass-baritone voice rejoices in the equally gentle Rumson songs, "I Still See Elisa" and "Wand'rin Star," and the honest, humorous confession of "In Between." Binckes couldn't be better as Jennifer, with a belting style that serves her songs beautifully, both as the tomboy Jennifer and the classy young adult she becomes.


Memorable and impressive is Acevedo's Julio, the Mexican with a Castilian heritage, who wants to find enough gold to buy back the land the Americans have taken from his family. He charms Jennifer and the audience, and his powerful, golden vocal treatment of the big ballads "I Talk to the Trees" and "Carino Mio" are shining highlights of the production.

The very large company is excellent from top to bottom, but Jim Trebilcox stands out singing "They Call the Wind Maria," and Patti Diamond is very funny as Elizabeth Woodling, the "spare" wife of a traveling Mormon, auctioned off in trade for a grubstake, to Ben Rumson.

* "Paint Your Wagon," Fullerton Civic Light Opera, Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $14-$32. (714) 879-1732. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Bob Lauder Jr.: Ben Rumson

Elna Binckes: Jennifer Rumson

Enrique Acevedo: Julio Valveras

Patti Diamond: Elizabeth Woodling

Jim Trebilcox: Steve Bullnack

A Fullerton Civic Light Opera production of the Lerner & Loewe musical. Directed by Jan Duncan. Musical direction/conductor: Benton Minor. Choreography: Sha Newman. Scenic design: Mark Klopfenstein. Lighting design: Donna Ruzika. Stage manager: Donna Parsons.

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