BWW Interview: Keith Carradine on the New Encores! Cast Album of PAINT YOUR WAGON
While you are updating your musical-theater playlist with this year's Tony nominees, don't overlook another new cast album: from the 2015 City Center Encores! production of Lerner and Loewe's Paint Your Wagon, starring Keith Carradine. Just released by Sony Masterworks last week, the Encores! album may be the definitive Paint Your Wagon recording, since the 1951 original cast recording contains only as many songs as could fit on an LP and the 1969 movie soundtrack features an altered score and the singing of Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood.
Paint Your Wagon, a Gold Rush-set musical that's never been revived on Broadway--plot points like a bride auction and prospectors ogling a teenage girl may have something to do with that--was presented at City Center in March of last year, with Carradine as widowed mayor Ben Rumson, Alexandra Socha as his daughter, and Justin Guarini as her love interest. The 30-person cast also includes Robert Creighton, Jenni Barber and Nathaniel Hackmann, who sings the show's most famous song, "They Call the Wind Maria."
The new album features the full score as performed at City Center, including all the dance music (the Broadway production was choreographed by Agnes De Mille), as well as a bonus track: a song Lerner and Loewe wrote for Paint Your Wagon but cut before the show reached New York. Sung by Carradine and Socha, it's called "What Do Other Folks Do?"--and it's not just the title that makes it recognizable as the template for Camelot's "What Do the Simple Folks Do?" This one also has verses about singing, dancing and whistling as cures for the blues.
Carradine spoke with BroadwayWorld by phone from L.A. on the day of the album's release. He'll be back in New York next month to start filming the new season of CBS' Madam Secretary, on which he plays President Dalton--who was initially a recurring character but is now in every episode.
Encores! shows don't usually get cast albums. Why'd they decide to do it for this one?
I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I think the Loewe Foundation was so thrilled with the presentation and the quality of the performance and the quality of the voices and the orchestrations, they didn't want it to just vanish. They knew that this was one of those "lightning in a bottle" moments, and they wanted it captured.
How familiar had you been with the show before doing it?
I've had a love affair with this score since my youth, 'cause my father used to sing these songs. One of his favorites was "Wand'rin' Star." He was prone to bursting into song--"September Song" and all of these classic songs--and "Wand'rin' Star" was a major part of his repertoire. I'd never forgotten him singing it. That was my earliest introduction to this score. And then my old friend Lee Marvin made the Josh Logan movie version--which, you know, has its naysayers, but the music is the music. I'd actually mentioned a couple of years ago, [when] someone had asked me, "If you were going to come back to Broadway and you had your choice, what would you do?" I said, "Well, if it wasn't something new, I've always had a thing for Paint Your Wagon, and I'm old enough now to play Ben Rumson." And then kaboom, Encores! came along.
Were you prepared for rehearsing and putting up the show in such short order?
I'd never done an Encores! production, and I was given fair warning about how fast they are. It's really about the music; it's not so much a performance of the entire show, although we staged it pretty completely and everyone was off book. I was off book from the get-go just because I had such an appetite to do this. What we had in that theater was amazing: Even in a Broadway production, you're not going to have 31 pieces in the orchestra. And the voices that they found to do this...it was as good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned. Just a spectacular experience. When we first all gathered in a rehearsal room with this 31-piece orchestra, the first time we heard them play and got to sing with them, it was one of those indescribably thrilling experiences. When I heard the orchestrations and I heard it played by that orchestra, it was magical.
Your character has a few solos besides "Wand'rin' Star." Tell us about your other songs on this album.
It's a great score, and Ben Rumson gets to sing some terrific songs. "In Between" was a ball, absolutely. "I Still See Elisa" is one of the most beautiful ballads ever written--an absolutely gorgeous song--and it's one that I sang in my youth. This was a song we had the sheet music to, I'm not even sure I knew it was from Paint the Wagon. My mother would play the piano, and we would stand around and sing. I just loved the song, so the chance to sing it was a gift.
Do you know most of the classic showtunes?
I've certainly been familiar with a lot of the great scores from musical theater, my mother having been a singer and my father sang--although he was much more interested in opera. The classic shows...they wrote memorable songs. And there were always a bunch of them in any show. I think that is a craft that has been lost to some extent.
Do you still have vivid memories of your Broadway debut, Hair?
Oh, my gosh, yes. That was a huge part of my life. That was where my professional career began as a performer--the first time I got up and did it for money. I was 19 when I got into the show, at the Biltmore in 1969, and performed there for, I think, 11 months. It was an extraordinary thing to be a part of. It was so much a part of that moment sociologically, historically, culturally. It was a groundbreaking piece of theater, and a remarkable score with one memorable song after another. My first experience of it was opening night at the Aquarius Theater in Los Angeles. It changed my life when I saw that; it absolutely floored me. I remember standing in that theater after the performance was over, and I couldn't move. I was standing there with my mouth open, marveling at what I'd just seen--and also wondering, "How the heck can I become a part of that?" And lo, some three months later, I was.
And what about your Tony-nominated title role in The Will Rogers Follies?
Oh, my. It was an amazing role in a wonderful show. That came along rather conventionally: My agent at the time said, "They're going to do this musical about Will Rogers, would you like to meet the producer?" And I did; that was Pierre Cossette. Eventually I got on an airplane and flew to New York and auditioned for Cy Coleman and Betty Comden and Adolph Green and Tommy Tune and Peter Stone. That was the beginning of one of the great work experiences of my life. Those are rare--when they come along, you want to savor it. And I did. I did it on Broadway for a year, and then I took it on the road for a year.
Turning to your television work, what's it like to play the President of the United States?
I have a pretty unmysterious approach to my craft. All I try to do is find the parts of myself that coincide with the demands of the character and try to imagine myself in that position. And then, of course, you put on the backstory, the way the character is written. I rely on the tone and the sensibility of the piece itself as designed by Barbara Hall, who created it. Within that framework they make it pretty clear what I need to provide that will be most effective opposite Téa Leoni's character and the other characters.
I'm one of the lucky ones: I'm still here, I'm still doing it, and as I get older and have more experience behind my eyes, these roles come along that you suddenly feel as though, "Okay, maybe that's good timing for me." That was certainly the case with this role. It was a nice role in the pilot, but there was no indication of where it would go in terms of a series. I think we're making really good television. The stories are compelling, and this group of writers have a knack for tapping into the geopolitical zeitgeist. They are able to create topical themes and very current storylines--some of which have turned out to be a little bit prophetic. I joke with them about being in league with the devil: "How could you write a story about Greek debt?" We film that, and virtually the same week [it aired] the Greek debt crisis was coming to a head in Europe.
What are you working on at present?
Right now I'm shooting a film with my old friend Alan Rudolph. It's called Ray Meets Helen. I'm playing Ray, an ex-boxer. He had a shot in his 20s but had a mishap that ended his boxing career. He's got a good buddy, played by Keith David, who works for an insurance company, and he keeps me afloat by hiring me to do insurance legwork, investigative stuff for claims. And Helen is being played by Sondra Locke, who has come out of retirement to play this role. She had no intention of getting back into this craziness, but she's a friend of Alan and his wife, and they gave her this script and she couldn't resist. So we are delighted to have her on board. She's a romantic interest. Through a series of chance occurrences and encounters, we wind up circling one another, and a romance is sparked. It's very sweet--I call it a sort of sweet, twisted romantic fable.
You were a favorite leading man for Alan in the '80s--Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, The Moderns--but haven't appeared in one of his films since your cameo as Will Rogers in 1994's Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. How is it to be collaborating again?
Fantastic. He's one of the people in my life that I love. We've always had a wonderful time working together, so this is really a gift to have a chance to do it one more time. I find him to be one of our more inventive filmmakers, and I've always appreciated his vision and his sense of style. I just think he's truly unique and gifted--he makes movies unlike anyone else. I love what he does, so I'm having a great time doing this.
Listen to Keith Carradine and the whole Paint Your Wagon recording here. It's available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Amazon.
Paint Your Wagon photos by Joan Marcus; Carradine headshot by Ben Glass