Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review
“Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun,” produced by San Diego Musical Theatre (SDMT) at the North Park Theatre through May 25, is a trip down memory lane for many of us, who are old enough to remember the original, which we saw in New York or Chicago.
The updated musical retains its sparkling musical score, featuring such winners as “No Business Like Show Business,” “Anything You Can Do,” and “They Say It’s Wonderful.”
Premiered on Broadway (with Ethel Merman) in 1946 and seen by this then-young critic in Chicago the following year (with Mary Martin, who received a Special Tony Award for her tour performance), the original “Annie Get Your Gun” had a book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields.
It was rife with song lyrics and lines no longer politically correct, so when the show returned to Broadway in 1999 (with Bernadette Peters) it had a new libretto by Peter Stone, who added a secondary romance between a part Native American man and the younger sister of Dolly, Frank Butler’s assistant.
Stone’s other modifications include the elimination of the Wild Horse Ceremonial Dance and its gilt, nearly nude male Indian dancer; and, after Chief Sitting Bull names Annie his honorary daughter, the complete elimination of her song, “I’m an Indian Too.” The song “An Old Fashioned Wedding,” written for the 1966 Broadway revival, was retained and turned into a battle of the sexes reminiscent of the conclusion of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shew,” in which, in contemporary productions, Kate/Annie come across staunchly feminist, but willing to compromise in order to enjoy Petruchio/Frank’s extreme maleness.
In the SDMT production, Broadway actor/singer Steve Blanchard (also seen here at The Old Globe as the Grinch) provides all the swagger one could wish for. He has a luscious voice to boot. Broadway performer Beth Malone, remembered for her performance in “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” is a perky, gauche and effective Annie. She sports a wondrous, straight up vocal line and is fetchingly tomboyish. By the time she sings “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” we are totally won. Endearingly, she looks tall and lanky, at least until she is in Blanchard’s arms, when suddenly she transforms to diminutive.
There are other admirable performances, chiefly local artist John Polhamus as Buffalo Bill Cody and Sean Tamburrino as Chief Sitting Bull. Debbie David makes her SDMT debut as Frank Butler’s fractious assistant, Dolly Tate, and Jeni Baker portrays her younger sister Winnie, in love with the half-breed, Tommy Keeler, portrayed by attractive Steven Rada, largely shirtless. Jim Marshall is a fine Pawnee Bill and Paul Morgavo portrays company manager Charlie Davenport. Don Le Master is music director and conductor of the on stage 22-piece orchestra. I understand its placement, but I does diminish the overture, played with closed curtains.
Completing the 22-member company, the ensemble is choreographed by accomplished director and traffic cop John Todd. The child actor/singers who play Annie’s hillbilly family are adorable Ava Marie Bunn, Claire Scheper, Taylor Coleman and Noah Baird.
“Annie Get Your Gun” is a family musical, so take the young people in your lives. It is very unlike SDMT’s next offering, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Next to Normal,” (Sept. 26 – Oct. 12), which is described euphemistically as showing “how far two parents will go to keep themselves sane and their family’s world intact.” In actuality, the piece deals with untreated mental illness and its effects on the family. Leave the younger kids at home for this one, and take yourself and your serious minded friends. Depending upon the cast, it could be dynamite. Take it from one who loves this show.
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. Her book “San Diego, Jewel of the California Coast” (Northland Publishing) is currently available in bookstores. She can be reached at email@example.com.