Annie Get Your Gun (Rohnert Park)
Spreckels Theatre Company Artistic Director Gene Abravaya reaches back yet again to classic Broadway for their current musical production of “Annie Get Your Gun”, running now through February 23rd at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. This time, however, Abravaya turned the directing reins over to Sheri Lee Miller. Ms. Miller, a well-known and respected North Bay actor and director, apparently has never directed on a stage as large as Spreckels’. You’d never know it by the results on display now. “Annie Get Your Gun” is as bright and bouncy a show as one could hope to see on a North Bay stage.
“Annie…” tells the very fictionalized story of sharpshooter Annie Oakley (Denise Elia-Yen), the circumstances that brought her to Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show”, and her on again/off again romance with sharpshooting rival Frank Butler (Zachary Hasbany) – all set to a classic Irving Berlin score. Granted, you may not know the show, but you’ll surely recognize such familiar tunes as “There’s No Business Like Show Business” or “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” among the 14 or so songs composed by Berlin. What’s even better is you get to hear them performed live by a 12 piece orchestra under the direction of Janis Wilson.
But no matter how great the composer, a musical production succeeds or fails on the quality of voices performing the compositions. Ms. Elia-Yen and Mr. Hasbany, two extremely talented performers, come through as the leads, and they have a terrific group of supporting actors and ensemble members to back them up. Dwayne Stincelli (who must have a lock on all the emcee/host-type roles in the county, and whose first line in every show he’s done recently seems to be “LADIES and GENTLEMEN…”) is a gregarious Buffalo Bill. Tim Setzer steps back from his usual lead role in musicals to do a nice turn in a supporting role (and whose suit alone is worth the price of admission.) Dan Monez has the unenviable task of playing what was a stereotypical Native American role (originally written by Herbert and Dorothy Fields in 1946, but adapted in 1999 by Peter Stone and undoubtedly softened) and succeeds in not only making it not offensive, but his character may very well be the heart and soul of the show.
Beyond the romance of Annie and Frank, there is a secondary romantic subplot that feels somewhat superfluous. But if you’re going to have a superfluous subplot, you better populate it with appealing and talented people to distract you from the fact that their scenes are extraneous. Anthony Guzman (looking infinitely more comfortable in this role than his last in “Victor/Victoria”, even while wearing a wig) and Brittany Law fill these roles and fill them well. As “Tommy” and “Winnie”, both are charming, personable, and have the singing and dancing chops to carry a couple of numbers.
The ensemble comes through vocally and movement-wise in the larger production numbers. While other local companies do their best to produce musicals with large-scale numbers, the Spreckels stage is simply the best one on which to see them. No other venue in the county can support twenty to thirty dancers on-stage, and choreographer Michella Snyder once again fills the stage with colorfully costumed (by Pamela Enz) performers executing energetic and entertaining dances. She even manages to work in a tap dance routine (with Joseph Favalora) that purists may call “anachronistic” but what I’d call “damn fun to watch”.
The stage is also filled with some incredibly clever sets (by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano), including one piece that transforms from a two-story hotel to a railroad Pullman car to a cattle-carrying steamship. Spreckels’ “Paradyne” projection system was used sparingly in this show, as director Miller didn’t want a lot of action or movement going on behind her cast. It was basically used to project backdrops on the stage, which is something that the architecture of this theatre often makes difficult.
While everyone should enjoy this production, “Annie Get Your Gun” is a great show with which to introduce a younger generation to the joys of live musical theatre. Beyond the colorful costumes and setting, the show also contains a troupe of pre-teen, or barely teenage, actors (Luca Catazano, Alyssa Jirrels, Andrea Luekens, and Ari Vozaitis) who acquit themselves quite nicely both in their roles as Annie’s siblings and as dancers in the larger numbers. If the kids can’t stand the icky-love stuff going on with the adults, they can focus on all the fun that the representatives of their generation seem to be having on-stage.
“Annie Get Your Gun” is a terrifically entertaining piece of Americana and well worth your consideration for an evening or afternoon’s entertainment. It’s a relatively short run, so catch it while you can.
Annie Get Your Gun
February 14th – 23rd
Thurs @ 7:30pm – Fri/Sat @ 8pm – Sat/Sun @ 2pm
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
(Photos by Eric Chazankin)