Annie Get Your Gun is one of the great masterworks of the first Golden Age of the American musical theater. Has this iconic work aged well? Most definitely yes and most definitely no! What appears ageless is the magnificent score created by Irving Berlin. Annie Get Your Gun is his crowning achievement and it is as fresh today as when the show opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on May 16, 1946. Time has done nothing to diminish its musical and lyrical brilliance. The same cannot be said for the seriously dated, original book by siblings Herbert and Dorothy Fields. The arrogant references to Native Americans are so politically incorrect that, at times, the show's comedy, at their expense, is greatly disturbing.
Last night, the Hale Centre Theatre opened a new production of Annie Get Your Gun, directed by Tregoney Sheppard, who recently staged the Hale's superb revival of Guys and Dolls. Happily, I can state that Sheppard has, once more, hit the bullseye. This is an almost untampered with Annie Get Your Gun. It is pretty much the show that played Broadway more than sixty years ago. Sheppard erases the disturbing memory of the distasteful, first official 1999 Broadway revival re-staged by Graciela Daniele and rewritten by Peter Stone. That disastrous production starred Bernadette Peters as Annie Oakley and Tom Wopat as Frank Butler and was mounted as a show within a show, a three ring circus more appropriate for Las Vegas than Broadway.
Director Tregoney Shepperd
Shepperd definitely subscribes to the theory that what worked so well then (1946) will also basically work now (2010) and she could not be more correct. Although, the sub-plot involving the romance between Winnie, the young daughter of Frank Butler's assistant Dolly, and Tommy, her part Native American boyfriend, has been oddly excised, considering all of the uncomfortable Native American references that remain. Otherwise, Shepperd shows her complete faith in this musical masterwork. She stages Annie Get Your Gun with no pretense and no cynicism. Musically speaking, she understands there is no need to improve on perfection.
Shepperd has populated her production with a wonderfully talented cast. Her choices to play Annie and Frank are rewardingly age appropriate. Erica Smith is our Annie. She is young, possibly too young to tackle such an important role but her winsome naiveté is refreshing and winning. She is far more the pert Betty Hutton Annie of the film version than the brash Ethel Merman Annie of the Broadway original. It is a pleasure to see her wide-eyed innocence, always amazed and learning from her surroundings. Matt Crosby could not be better as Frank Butler. Crosby manages to smooth the corrugated edges of his cardboard character, making Butler more than just Annie's underwritten love interest. It is a pleasure to watch his Butler's smug swagger melt in her sunshine. In a single nod to the 1999 production, Shepperd has Crosby open the show singing the great anthem There's No Business Like Show Business a capella.
Erica Smith (Annie Oakley)
Throughout the evening, the young Smith and Crosby use their raw, fresh voices and talents to make beautiful music with Irving Berlin's beloved score. There isn't a false note to be had with Berlin. It's all there! There's No Business Like Show Business, Doin' What Comes Natur'lly, You Can't Get a Man with a Gun, They Say It's Wonderful, Moonshine Lullaby, I Got the Sun in the Morning, I Got Lost in Lost in His Arms, The Girl That I Marry, My Defences are Down, and Anything You Can Do. How many shows can claim such a list of bonafide hits? And to think Berlin initially refused producers Rodgers and Hammerstein's request to write the score, claiming that his style was no match for the story!
Matt Crosby (Frank Butler)
The supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Skyler Bean is a particular delight as the wheeling and dealing Charlie Davenport. He also dances the Wild West Ballet, a pas de deux of sorts, with Sarah Hollands. As staged by choreographer Tamera Young, this duet is a lovely tribute to the doyenne of 1940's Broadway dance, Agnes De Mille.
Alex Gonzalez makes the most of his role as Chief Sitting Bull, a role that could easily have been caricature, and, again, politically incorrect. Gonzalez gives great depth to his well-played Chief, a nobility of stature that is a welcome relief.
The Hale Centre Theatre and Tregoney Shepperd's Annie Get Your Gun is a colorful, splashy, musically astounding extravaganza that is the perfect summer entertainment for the entire family. The sharp shooting musical continues its target practice though August 28.
All graphic artwork and photos courtesy of Hale Centre Theatre.
For more information about Annie Get Your Gun's performance schedules and/or ticket prices and availability, please contact Hale Centre Theatre directly eitherON LINE or the box office at (480)-497-1181.
Hale Centre Theatre 50 West Page Ave, Gilbert 85233