Monthly Archive for: ‘February, 2014’
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Photos by Eric Chazankin
Annie Got Her Guy
Considered by many to be one of the best musicals of all time, Annie Get Your Gun premiered on Broadway in 1946 to rave reviews, starring Ethel Merman as the brassy backwoods “little sure-shot” Annie Oakley. One reviewer of the time said, “No use trying to pick a hit tune…all the tunes are hits.” It was produced by the legendary team of Rogers and Hammerstein with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, arguably the greatest and most prolific of American composers. The show being presented at Spreckels is based on the successful 1999 revival starring Bernadette Peters, which netted Tony Awards for best lead actress (musical) and best revival. A notable difference between the 1946 and 1999 shows is the removal of three songs: “Colonel Buffalo Bill”, “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” and “I’m an Indian Too”. By 1999, it was felt that the songs were insensitive to Native Americans and women; times had changed.
Besides packing fewer tunes, the Annie revival was rewritten into a “show within a show” concept, with the story more firmly centered on the romance between the real-life Annie and her husband Frank Butler. The wider context is the famed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West spectacles of the 1880s. These traveling circus extravaganzas dazzled audiences with their re-enactments of cavalry charges, Indian raids on wagon trains and cowboys out on the range. They featured hundreds of performers on horseback along with stampeding herds of cattle and buffalo. Performed nationwide and before the crowned heads of Europe for decades, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West shows helped shape the nation’s idea of life in the West for generations to come. Sharpshooting daredevils Annie and Frank were two of Buffalo Bill’s best-known and most beloved performers.
In Annie Get Your Gun at Spreckels, Buffalo Bill (the always-wonderful Dwayne Stincelli) has left his buffalos at home. Also missing are the sights and sounds of galloping horses and whooping cowboys, and much of the excitement. The scaled down, intimate feel seems at odds with the Big-Top scope of a show like this. While it’s true the intent is to focus on the love story between Annie (Denise Elia-Yen) and Frank (Zachary Hasbany), what makes them so special – the Wild West show – lurks mostly on the sidelines.
Elia-Yen shines like the blazing sun as the rough-and-tumble but tenderhearted Annie, with a truly unique and thrilling vocal quality. She is radiant in a part that calls for her to be crude and funny, mellow and sensitive, and everything in between. Of all the wonderful songs in the show, there is one number in particular where star, cast, crew, director and orchestra all combine in sheer perfection: “Moonshine Lullaby” with the Cowboy Trio. This number could be bottled and sold as an elixir, it’s that good. Other standout performances are the iconic “No Business Like Show Business” and the happy-go-lucky ”I Got the Sun in the Morning”. Hasbany is a towering presence onstage, and not just because of his impressive height. He is magnetic in the role of Butler with a warm, mellow baritone and just the right amount of swagger to sweep Annie off her feet. (Makeup suggestion: A mustache would lend maturity to his very young face.) Hasbany skillfully shows how love transforms Butler’s life. He opens the show with a slow but soaring a cappella version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and his sweet dueling duet with Elia-Yen, ”Anything You Can Do”, is a sheer delight.
There’s the requisite secondary romance, a standard in classic musicals, between bright-eyed youngsters Winnie (Brittany Law) and Tommy (Anthony Guzman). Winnie’s vindictive and scheming sister Dolly is played by that powerhouse of versatility, Liz Jahren. Solid performances by Dan Monez as Chief Sitting Bull and Tim Setzer as Charlie Davenport round out the cast.
Choreographer and performer Michella Snyder has staged some very good dance numbers, but at times they lack a certain energy and bounce, and also seem too formal in a few places. A free-wheeling style may be more in keeping with the setting. An inspired burst of tap-dancing, done really well, was a treat to see and drew appreciative applause. Perfect period costumes, especially the ball gowns, were beautifully done by Pamela Enz. Musical Director Janis Wilson did a solid job conducting, and the 17-piece orchestra was in excellent form with a lushly jaunty sound.
Staging and direction is by Sheri Lee Miller in her Spreckels debut. Best known to North Bay audiences for her brilliant, sensitive realization of intimate shows, she has ventured into the realm of stage musicals recently with the hugely successful La Cage Aux Folles at Cinnabar. Annie is a pleasure to watch with a talented cast and unforgettable music, but it needs just a few more nods to its setting within the Wild West shows. After all, the setting is what makes Annie and Frank’s love story so uniquely entertaining. This could be accomplished with stronger use of sound effects and images alluding to the hundreds of livestock and performers, including Native Americans, and the vast roaring crowds reacting to them. And while we are supposed to be seeing a show within a show, there are only a couple of places where this is effectively conveyed. Elizabeth Bazzano’s flexible sets served the story well, but more of Spreckels’ marvelous Paradyne projector system could have been used to enhance certain scenes without losing any period authenticity – for example, one scene on a train. And even though the show overall could also use more lively pacing, it’s like a glass of day-old champagne: some of the sparkle may be missing, but it’s still tasty.
Annie Get Your Gun presented by Spreckels Theatre Company
When: Now through February 23, 2014
7:30 p.m. Thursdays
8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Tickets: $22 to $26 (reserved seating)
Location: Codding Theater, Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA