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Performing Arts Blog
Jacob's Pillow 2013

Wendy Whelan, backstage at Jacob’s Pillow in 2013. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Last September, at an event at New York City Center, the former New York City Ballet star Damian Woetzel looked Wendy Whelan in the eye and said, “You’re gipping the system.” Whelan laughed heartily. The thirty-year veteran of New York City Ballet was about to retire, at the age of 47. Unlike most ballerinas in the late stages of their careers, however, she wasn’t planning to quit dancing. She had already launched her own independent project, an evening of duets called Restless Creature, which had premiered at Jacob’s Pillow in the summer of 2013. A tour was planned for the months after her farewell at City Ballet, with a New York premiere at the Joyce in May. Before taking her leave from one career, Whelan had begun a new one, still a dancer, but on her own terms.

First, she had to settle a score with her body. Not long after the Jacob’s Pillow appearance in 2013, Whelan underwent surgery on her right hip for a complex labral tear. Without getting too graphic, the labrum is a ring of cartilage that lines the hip joint, where the femur meets the socket. Rupture means pain and loss of flexibility. As Whelan has explained, “I couldn’t do a fifth position”—which is like a pianist not being able to play a C Major chord. After trying every kind of therapy she could find, Whelan finally decided to go under the knife. Her recovery was remarkable but slow. By last fall she was back onstage at New York City Ballet, debuting in an extraordinary role created for her by Alexei Ratmansky in his Pictures at an Exhibition. It captured her unique qualities: that ineffable poetry, the ability to make every moment count, and her powerful presence.

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March 24, 2015 by New York City Center

We caught up with Paint Your Wagon star Justin Guarini in his dressing room and asked him your questions about karaoke, whether he gets free Diet Dr. Pepper for life, and why he cut off his signature locks. (His response: “When you have that much hair, it’s like having a two-year-old on top of your head. You wake up, and, my God, they’re there. They’re unruly.”) Check it out!


Paint Your Wagon runs for seven performances, from March 18-22.

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March 18, 2015 by New York City Center
Hirschfeld Caricature

Al Hirschfeld’s caricature of the original Broadway cast of Paint Your Wagon. © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. www.AlHirschfeldFoundation.org. Al Hirschfeld is also represented by the Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd., New York.

In the days leading up to Paint Your Wagon’s Broadway opening, bookwriter and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner found time to dash off a witty, urbane essay about the making of the musical. Published in The New York Times on November 11, 1951, the piece reveals Lerner’s many contradictions. He was both scholar and gadabout, both cynic and patriot—all qualities that helped shape Paint Your Wagon, a show that was researched in library stacks and cast during Moss Hart parties. This essay appears courtesy of the Alan Jay Lerner Estate.

As often as I’ve tried, I have never quite been able to remember what started me on the idea of doing a musical about the Gold Rush. I do remember, however, several mornings, five years ago, when I wandered into the New York Public Library and started the endless research that I and later, Fritz [Frederick Loewe] did, before writing the first word or note. As I look back on it now I have a feeling that perhaps it all started with all the soul-searching self-criticism to which America has been subjecting itself in recent years.

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March 16, 2015 by New York City Center
Gemze de Lappe

Gemze de Lappe, photographed by Rose Eichenbaum.

The dancer Gemze de Lappe joined the first national tour of Oklahoma! in 1943, just a few months after her 21st birthday. She quickly became a disciple of the great Agnes de Mille, who choreographed numerous roles for her and once said, “She was the best then; she is the best now—because Gemze brought to the commercial theater tenderness and passion.” We spoke with de Lappe, 93, about her memories of being the female dance lead in the original production of Paint Your Wagon.

CITY CENTER: 1951 was quite a year for you on Broadway—in March you opened in The King and I, and in November you opened in Paint Your Wagon. Before we get to that show, I want to ask about The King and I. What was Gertrude Lawrence like?
GEMZE DE LAPPE: She was always very charming and sweet to me. Of course, she lived in a different world from us peons down below. (laughs) We were a very close group in King and I. We could hear Gertrude on the monitor backstage—she’d hit a note and then she’d sag off of it. So when I was in The King and I, I always thought that Yul Brynner was the star and that Gertrude was afterwards—second lead. The night we left the show, Yul gave us two tickets to see the show from the front. And suddenly—it was the revelation of my life. She was the star. (laughs) Nobody cared about her wrong notes or anything. It was…a star performance from beginning to end.

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March 11, 2015 by New York City Center
Paint Your Wagon Movie

Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, and Jean Seberg were the improbable stars of the 1969 film version of Paint Your Wagon.

For the first time in its 22-year history, Encores! is presenting a musical written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. But as Encores! Artistic Director Jack Viertel explains, the showPaint Your Wagonis a fascinating anomaly from the songwriting team best known for My Fair Lady and Camelot.

On the face of it, there could hardly be two less likely authors of the 1951 Gold Rush musical Paint Your Wagon than Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Loewe, the elder of the two by 17 years, was born in Berlin to Viennese parents, and grew up in the world of operetta—his father was a singer, and he, himself, a classical piano prodigy. Lerner was a dyed-in-the-wool (and other fabrics) New Yorker whose father founded Lerner Stores, a chain of dress shops. Each was a consummate big-city sophisticate in his own way: Loewe a product of old-world European Jewish culture, Lerner of the Choate School and Yale. The rough-and-tumble world of Paint Your Wagon would seem to be about as far from their collective personal experience as one could get.

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March 9, 2015 by New York City Center
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