"Annie Get Your Gun"
Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam
Once again an old-time musical returns to the stage. This time, under Rob Ruggiero’s skilled, imaginative direction, “Annie Get Your Gun” comes to life. It is an endearing little package, full of bounce and verve, but well-suited to Goodspeed’s pocket-size stage.
Moreover, the choice follows Goodspeed’s original mandate—that is, to bring the past of American musical comedy to life. Indeed, this particular “Annie Get Your Gun” combines a history lesson with pleasing entertainment—offering some theatergoers a trip to Nostalgialand, others an introduction to Broadway’s past—and every one a good time.
This 1946 musical never had a strong story line (certainly it is no “Gypsy” or “West Side Story”), but it encompassed some of Irving Berlin’s most memorable tunes---among them, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” and “My Defenses Are Down.”
The story (original book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields, revision by Peter Stone), deals with a sharpshooter—a girl from the backwoods who can outshoot any man—namely, Annie Oakley. When Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show comes to town, a shooting match is held, in which the show’s star, Frank Butler, challenges the local population. Of course Annie wins hands down, becomes the show’s new star and begins a battling romance with Frank.
The story is marred, unfortunately, by offering a clichéd version of Native Americans—toned down in this revision, but present nonetheless. Since nothing about this “Annie” is meant to be taken seriously—and since it takes place in an imagined past, such outdated nonsense can be taken in stride. The “Injuns” are cartoons, but so, too, are Annie and all her cohorts.
Ruggiero has assembled a first-class cast, all with fine voices and performances. Under Ruggiero’s direction, there is never a ragged moment. Every step is sharp, clean, and perfectly-timed. The two leads—Jenn Gambatese (Annie) and Kevin Early (Frank) have the right chemistry for the roles and for each other. Moreover, each can belt out a tune—with Early’s magnificent voice and Gambatese’s moving renditions. And they are backed up all the way—with the skilled dancers Andrew Cao and Chelsea Morgan Stock as the young lovers and Rebecca Watson as the mean older sister.
But the entire cast is in sync, as is the design team. Noah Racey has choreographed the show so that company dance numbers are constantly innovative and diverting. Alejo Vietto’s handsome costumes create an imaginary 19th century world, as do Michael Schweikardt’s smoothly-gliding sets and John Lasiter’s lighting.
In all, this “Annie Get Your Gun” is a crowd-pleaser. This time around, there is hardly time to enjoy Goodspeed’s charming back porch and magnificent view of the Connecticut River.
May 17, 2010