ANNIE GET YOUR GUN

Glendale Centre Theatre once again does what it does best—revive classic Broadway musicals in-the-round—with Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, the song-and-dance tale of legendary 1880s “cham-peen” sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

Victoria Strong stars as the Wild West legend first introduced to New Yorkers back in 1946 when musical comedy legend Ethel Merman belted out soon-to-be-standard Berlin gems like “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,” and “Anything You Can Do.”

Dorothy and Herbert Fields’ book has unschooled gun whiz Annie falling for Wild West Show headliner Frank Butler, renowned as “the world’s greatest sharpshooter” until Annie gets her gun and shows the handsome, charming lothario that anything he can do, she can do better, then discovers to her dismay that in matters of male-female romance, a gun ain’t no way to get a man down on one knee if it’s a gal (and not her pappy) holding the firearm.

Colorful supporting characters add to the fun, from rival Wild West Show owners Buffalo and Pawnee Bill to Frank’s wisecracking but clearly smitten assistant Dolly Tate to company manager Charlie Davenport to Annie’s preteen siblings to none other than Sioux chief Sitting Bull himself.

All of this adds up to a musical theater classic that along with Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945) helped revolutionize Broadway with songs that didn’t just stop the show, they propelled it.

Theaters staging Annie Get Your Gun can choose from two licensed versions, the 1966 revival (which left young lovers Tommy and Winnie on the cutting room floor and added a brand new Berlin song “An Old-Fashioned Wedding” to the mix) or the 1996 Broadway revival that kept “Old-Fashioned Wedding” and brought back the ingénue couple but jettisoned the Fields’ book for one deemed more politically correct.

Glendale Centre Theatre opts for the former, one that sticks closer to the original Broadway vision but proves problematic in its depiction of Native Americans, at times treating them with respect (Annie sees Chief Sitting Bull as a wise father figure) but more often than not as the butt of jokes.

If only there were a third version to give us the best of both.

Still, this is for the most part one crowd-pleasing musical (so long as you’re not an American Indian), and with Tim Dietlein sitting confidently in the director’s chair and Paul Reid choreographing with imagination and a quirky pizzazz, Glendale Centre Theatre audiences are in for a nostalgic, romantic, tune-filled if behind-the-times treat.

As Annie, Southland musical theater treasure Strong combines feistiness, femininity, and one fabulous set of pipes, whether letting loose with “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” or taking it down a notch with a velvet “Moonshine Lullaby” and “Lost In His Arms.”

Andrew Husmann of the 2000 Broadway National Tour gives Frank just the right blend of masculine swagger and effortless charm, and a baritone that melds to perfection with Strong’s pop soprano in “They Say It’s Wonderful” and the showstopping “Anything You Can Do.”

Doing terrific work as well are supporting cast members Amanda Reed Bailey (as the brash but unrequitedly lovestruck Dolly), Tom Killam (as showman extraordinaire Buffalo Bill), Frank Rodriguez (as a wise and caring if stereotypically written Chief Sitting Bull), John David Wallis (as harried businessman Charlie), and Ted Wells (as both hotel owner Mr. Wilson and Pawnee Bill), though Dolly would get more laughs if Frank’s assistant’s claim to be a mere thirty-two years of age were a stretch in the downward direction.

Child performers Jessie Eggleston (Nellie), Summer Ruyle (Minnie), Belle Warren (Jessie), and Yates Warren (Little Jake) are all four charmers.

Ensemble members Jordan Byers (Eagle Feather), Ashley Byrd (Mrs. Henderson), Kevin Holmquist (Mac, Mr. Adams), Jordan Lawhorn (Conductor), Andreas Pantazis (Running Deer), Reid, Wayne Remington (Hotel Brevort Footman), Jade Rosenberg (Mrs. Blackhorse), Calista Ruiz (Mrs. Potter-Porter), Youca Shimura (Mrs. Blacktooth), Libby Snyder (Mrs. Adams), and Megan Stys (Mrs. Schuyler) shine brightly throughout, whether as townsfolk or Wild West Show performers or tuxedoed gents and debutants or black-wigged “Injuns,” and never more so than when executing choreographer Reid’s energetic, athletic dance moves, with snaps to the pseudo Native Americana that is “I’m An Indian Too.”

Annie Get Your Gun looks and sounds terrific thanks to musical director Steven Applegate, an uncredited but ingenious in-the-round scenic design, Dietlein’s vibrant lighting design, JC Wendel’s scenic artistry, and most especially costume designer Angela Manke’s bevy of Wild West, Native American, and period evening wear.

Annie Get Your Gun is produced by Dietlein. Patrick Gallagher is stage manager. Nathan Milisavljevich is set carpenter.

Much as I wish there were an Annie Get Your Gun that preserved the charms (and full cast of characters) of the Broadway original minus its arguably offensive stereotypes, I can’t fault Glendale Centre Theatre’s execution of this true American classic. GCT’s Annie Get Your Gun is an entertaining musical theater-in-the-round treat. It just needs some 21st-century attitude adjustment.

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Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. Through July 1. Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Thursday June 1 at 8:00 and Sundays May 28 and June 4 and 11 at 3:00. Reservations: 818 244-8481
www.glendalecentretheatre.com

–Steven Stanley
May 26, 2017
Photos: Rock With You Photography

 

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