ANNIE’S STILL GOT HER GUN!
This touring production of Annie Get Your Gun is so clever and enjoyable that I hate to have any quibbles – but I do. The major one is about the text used. It is essentially the 1999 Broadway Revival Version and in leaving out the songs “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” for Frank Butler and the big number “I’m an Indian Too” the producers supposedly thought they were leaving out dated material that is now politically incorrect. Unfortunately this also diminishes our understanding of Frank Butler’s character before he meets Annie Oakley, so that he comes across as something of a cipher; and the other omission weakens our understanding of the relationship between Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. Frank’s song is essential to the construction of the show; and “I’m an Indian too!” is not only witty and a good excuse for a grand production number, but it also, if played with some irony, can be charming and far more effectively pro-Native American than omitting it.
I have to say – though it makes me a bit uncomfortable – that though I like Jason Donovan and think he is charismatic and makes a fairly good job of it, he is simply miscast as Frank Butler. But presumably he is the “star draw” that gets people to buy the tickets. If Annie is coming near you, you should definitely see it; but you should try to go on a night when Jonny Wilkes is taking over for Donavan.
Now to the good stuff, and there is masses of it. The score is brilliant with never a dull moment and with a good half-dozen or more memorable hits. The staging concept, giving the tale a frame as if it is being performed in a circus tent, works just fine and saves a lot of time (and money) when it comes to changes of setting. The entire cast is strong. Donovan as Donavan is perfectly enjoyable; Norman Pace is a scene stealer as Buffalo Bill and Kara Lane is very memorable as Dolly Tate. Special mention must also be made of Yiftach Mizrahi as Tommy Keeler and Lorna Want as Winnie Tate. Restoring their secondary plot line is definitely a positive step. The band is up on the stage, Chicago-style, and a strong presence, playing idiomatically and with gusto throughout. Praises for Musical Supervisor Stephen Ridley are definitely in order. All in all, the show is simply captivating.
But the most captivating element, the top reason for seeing this show, the cherry and the icing on the cake, is Emma Williams. She is right up there, for me, with Mary Martin in the charm and attack with which she does this role. Yes, Annie will always be Ethel Merman for many; but in the States, it is also Mary Martin, who did the national tour and a very popular TV version. Williams has the complete package – she can sing and dance, she can act, she has superb comic timing, her voice and diction are clear; and she has an enchanting stage presence that makes you want to hug her throughout. She also has superb stage sense – she pulls you into the energy of the show time and time again. In an earlier era they’d be writing musicals for her. The direction, by Ian Talbot, is sound – he clearly loves the show; and the choreography by Lizzi Gee is infectious. Finally, I have to admit that the “politically correct” rewrite of the ending is one brilliant change to the original script of which I simply have to approve.
If you’ve never seen Annie Get Your Gun, you will get some sense of what the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals was all about: the energy, the entertainment and the genuine sentiment. If you know the show already from any of its earlier incarnations, this version will not disappoint in any major way whatever your quibbles. If Annie brings her gun anywhere near you, you definitely should go.
- Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
- Original Book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields
- New Book and Additional Material by Peter Stone
- Director: Ian Talbot
- Cast includes: Emma Williams, Jason Donovan, Norman Pace, , Kara Lane, Yiftach Mizrahi, Lorna Want
- New Theatre, Oxford
- Touring the UK until October 2014
- Review by Mel Cooper
- 27 June 2014