Aiming to please
Annie Get Your Gun
Sure, it’s campy, too loud and occasionally racist. Its subplot is weak, and it features every lousy stereotype about the West. But Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company’s production of Annie Get Your Gun is fun, and its lead actress is so talented that it’s worth enduring all of that other stuff.
Plus, I adore a good love story, and this lead pairing has extraordinary chemistry. Once you have that, the rest falls into place.
Irving Berlin’s original 1946 version, which starred Ethel Merman in the role that made her famous, was good, but believed by many to be offensive in its portrayal of American Indians. In 1999, Peter Stone revised the story slightly to feature a much more self-assured, more empowered and funnier Sitting Bull, and the show-within-a-show framework. It’s this revival that the WNMTC brings to the stage.
Annie Get Your Gun is the story of Annie Oakley, the poor, illiterate sharp-shooter. Annie, played beautifully by Lauren Ashley Durant, meets, falls in love, has a falling out and reunites with rival shooter Frank Butler, played by Joshua Jessup (voted 2005’s “Best Actor in Northern Nevada” by RN&R readers).
As the show opens, Frank is the headliner in Buffalo Bill’s (Dave Anderson’s) traveling Wild West Show (cue the famous Broadway melody, “There’s No Business Like Show Business"). Frank, believed to be the finest shooter in the West, breezes into a rural town, set on finding a challenger. He’s accompanied by his irritatingly loud assistant, Dolly (Carla Wilson), who aptly serves as comic relief throughout the show.
Annie gets wind of the challenge and, anxious to make a quick buck, takes him on and wins—too bad she’s fallen in love with him. She’s already learned the hard way that a woman with a gun has a hard time keeping a man. When Annie upstages Frank in the competition, he struggles to overcome his wounded pride and acknowledges that he loves her, too.
Unfortunately, some of the show’s other elements feel like wastes of time, namely, the secondary romance between Dolly’s niece, Winnie (Whitney Giron), and the young Indian boy, Tommy (Alex Kaskie). There’s little chemistry between these two and, except for the story’s pervasive theme of racism, it’s hard to see why we should care about their romance at all. Not to mention that their songs are the least memorable and well-executed of the show.
Although Stone’s revision was meant to remove some of the original’s racist elements, I found it insulting to hear Sitting Bull (Jerry Lowe), in full-feather headdress, musing about opening a casino and calling someone “an Indian giver.” Granted, that’s really a script problem, not a production problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the romance between Annie and Frank. When the two kiss (in between their occasional sparring), sparks fly. The high point of the show is their duet, “Anything You Can Do,” when Durant really shows off her fantastic singing chops. Although Jessup, at times, has some trouble hitting those high notes, his baritones are sweet, and the way he looks at Annie is even sweeter.
Annie Get Your Gun is fun, funny, beautiful to look at—the sets are wonderful—and features some of Broadway’s most beloved tunes. Cheesy Wild West stuff aside, it’s worth a gander.