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What better location for a Gold Rush-era musical than a Gold Rush town?

For the second time in seven years, Sierra Repertory Theatre will present the musical "Paint Your Wagon" at Columbia State Historic Park.

"It is a great place to do this play because you feel the energy and the history," said Ben Gonio, the only returning performer from Sierra Rep's wildly popular original staging.

Known for the songs "They Call the Wind Maria," "I Talk to The Trees" and "The Wand'rin Star," the 1951 Lerner and Loewe musical follows the rough-and-tumble world of California gold miners in 1853.

Gonio will again play Julio Valveras, a Mexican prospector who falls in love with the 16-year-old daughter of a neighboring miner, Ben Rumson.

The lovers were eliminated from the1969 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, with Eastwood picking up Julio's songs as a new character, Pardner. In place of the romance, a story was added about Ben and Pardner sharing a wife.

Gonio, who has never seen the film, said the original plot is compelling because of its focus on an interracial relationship. "I really think this play is all about hope — how love survives or exists in trying circumstances," he said.

Raised in Seattle, Gonio has no home base and travels the country performing in different regional theaters. He has appeared in productions in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Oregon and Idaho.

Part Filipino and Chinese with some Spanish thrown in, Gonio was celebrated for his good looks in reviews for Sierra Rep's 2000 staging of "Paint." He said he is often mistaken for Johnny Depp.

He will be joined in this year's cast by several Sierra Rep favorites and a few new performers. Ty Smith is Ben Rumson, while Jen Faith Brown is his daughter, Jennifer. Jon Reinhold plays Jacob, the saloon owner, and Annie Brown plays his girlfriend, Cherry. Kevin High is Jacob, the Mormon who auctions off his wife Elizabeth, played by Lulu Lloyd.

Sierra Rep co-founder Dennis Jones is directing.

The show is family-friendly, with songs that will leave audience members humming as they exit the theater and a plot that will teach them something about the Wild West, Gonio said.

"It's a light, romantic musical that makes you think a little bit," he said. "It doesn't impose it or beat you over the head with it, but it has some emotional weight to it."

WHAT: "Paint Your Wagon"

WHEN: July 20-Sept. 16

WHERE: Fallon House Theatre, Columbia State Historic Park, off Parrotts Ferry Road, Columbia

TICKETS: $15-$28

CALL: 532-3120