Annie Get Your Gun

Marquis Theatre, NY – March 2000

Review by John Kenrick

After perusing the reviews and the cast CD for 1999 revival of Annie Get Your Gun, I had little desire to see it. I am as much a Bernadette Peters fan as anyone else, but felt that she was vocally miscast – and the extensive book revisions and score deletions made for this production had me shuddering. However, twelve months of packed houses (and a painful lack of other choices at TKTS last week) convinced me it was time to break down and see Annie. All my fears were justified, but even so there was much to enjoy at the Marquis Theatre.

There is no justification for what has been done to the original script. Peter Stone may be the finest Broadway librettist alive, but his attempts to update the original Herbert & Dorothy Fields script only succeeds in sucking the life out of it. Turning a solid book musical into a "show within a show" suggests that this production never had faith in the material. So why did they bother reviving the show at all?

The score has been revised too – like Irving Berlin needed pruning? Aside from the deletion of "I m an Indian Too" to make the show more politically correct (which is bunk, since the new script seems more offensive to Native Americans than ever), many numbers have been removed or edited. Introductory verses, bridges, reprises nothing was sacred.  "There s No Business Like Show Business" has been turned into the opening number, with so many disjointed reprises that it is eventually bled to death. The mumbled performances of several inept children make most of "Doin What Comes Naturally" unintelligible, and many numbers are staged to cut off applause – an insulting way to treat an audience.

Everything about this Annie Get Your Gun is pointlessly brash. I know this is a musical comedy, but even the brassy Ethel Merman understood that certain parts of a show have to be played small and subtle if the whole package is to have maximum effect. This ensemble throws countless double takes, prat falls and wide-eyed gawks into the mix, acting like escapees from an episode of South Park. As a result, this Annie is like a parade in which all the bands play loud and march in triple-time you wind up feeling exhausted rather than entertained. Ultimately, this is not the fault of the actors, but of the choreographer and director. Jeff Calhoun and Graciella Danielle s whole approach betrays disdain for this show. Revising a classic with unwanted sound and fury is like putting 1990's parts on a 1948 Cadillac – it looks ridiculous. I hope this is the last Broadway revival for these two, especially Calhoun – his contempt for the material disqualifies him as much as his general ineptitude.

Amid all this hurly-burly, two people manage to deliver the real goods – a pair of stellar musical comedy performances that make everything else worth the effort.

Tom Wopat gives a warm and refreshingly understated performance as Frank Butler, the sharpshooter who must somehow reconcile a macho personality with his hopeless love for a woman who is every inch his equal. The new Vegas-style arrangement of "My Defenses Are Down" sounds horrifying on the cast album, but Wopat s absolute security makes it work on stage and it is the only number where the frenetic choreography slows down long enough to display some genuine wit. And it does not hurt that this onetime star of TV's Dukes of Hazzard still has tremendous sex appeal.

The key issue is that Bernadette Peters is magical as Annie Oakley. From the moment she walks on stage, you know that she owns it, giving one of the finest comic performances Broadway has seen in a generation. Lines of dialogue that have no inherent comic content become hilarious thanks to her flawless timing and disarming presence. Her voice is wrong for this score, and she even sounds a little ragged at times. However, she does a masterful job of maneuvering each number past her vocal limitations. "You Can t Get a Man With a Gun" is hilarious, as are her duets with Wopat on "Old Fashioned Wedding" and "Anything You Can Do."

Her personal highlight is "I Got Lost in His Arms." Mind you, the production tries desperately to get in her way. Midway through the song, the set flies off, gratuitous fog rolls in, the orchestra changes key and builds to a crescendo thing that pop singers depend on to give the illusion of excitement. These tricks are unnecessary when a real Broadway pro is working a great showtune. Peters wows the audience with the vulnerability and gamine charm that make her the last of the bona fide Broadway musical stars.

As a production, this Annie Get Your Gun leaves a lot to be desired. However, Peters serves up some of the best laughs I ve had in a while, and it is a genuine joy to hear Irving Berlin's songs in a Broadway theatre again. If you don't see Peters in this role, you're missing one of her finest performances – and no one who enjoys musicals can afford to do that!

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