Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Annie Get Your Gun

Yeehaw!! Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show are back in town!

It has been 11 years since Annie Oakley and Frank Butler held a shooting match at Music Circus, but Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” is this week’s production, directed by Gary John La Rosa, and it is loads of fun.

Berlin’s score is filled with familiar gems like “Anything You Can Do,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “They Say It’s Wonderful” and, of course, the iconic “There’s No Business like Show Business.”

If you are “of a certain age” and remember seeing an early stage version, or the movie starring Betty Hutton, this may not be the “Annie” that you remember. At some point it was revised to make it more politically correct, taking out anything that might be construed as offensive to Native Americans.

So, gone is the number “I’m An Indian, Too” and the ceremony to make Annie Oakley a member of the Sioux tribe, but what’s left gives more dignity to Sitting Bull.

This is, of course, the fictionalized story of Annie Oakley and her relationship with her soon-to-be-husband, sharpshooter Frank Butler, under the auspices of Buffalo Bill’s traveling show.

Music Circus newcomer Beth Malone is a superlative Annie, a wild, illiterate, backwoods girl taking care of her young siblings by shooting local animals and trying to sell them to local restaurants. Over the course of the show, she grows into a mature woman, sure of herself and the equal of Butler, in every way.

Edward Watts, also a Music Circus newcomer, is everything one would want in a Frank Butler. Tall, handsome, virile, charming, but with an exaggerated opinion of himself that makes him aggravating. With a strong baritone voice, his duets with Annie are wonderful, but in his solo, “My Defenses Are Down,” he comes into his own.

Annie has never seen anything quite like this guy and is smitten from the first time she looks into his eyes. The two actors play well off of each other and their on-again, off-again relationship is believable.

The always-satisfying Ron Wisniski (seen earlier this season as Fagin in “Oliver!”) is a bombastic Buffalo Bill, bigger than life as he struggles to find a way to keep his show in the black.

Paul Ainsley is a sardonic Sitting Bull, who has a special soft spot in his heart for Annie and makes her his adopted daughter.

Annie’s siblings are adorable. Haley Finerman as Jessie, Rachel Finerman as Nellie, and cute little Zac Ballard (I hope he gets the chance to play Winthrop Paroo in “Music Man” before he gets much bigger!) are professional kids who do a great job with “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” but they don’t become cloyingly cute.

Heather Lee is a brazen Dolly Tate, Frank’s assistant, who has no love lost for Annie.

The young lovers, Michael D. Jablonski as Tommy Keeler and Jill Townsend as Winnie Tate, are adorable.

The opening “No Business Like Show Business” displays the lively choreography of John Macinis, which is such a big part of the success of this show. The high-kicking dances at the Hotel Brevoort are particularly enjoyable.

This is a delightful little package that obviously was a crowd pleaser, since the Wells Fargo Pavilion had more filled seats than any other opening night this season. Nobody left disappointed.

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