Sunday, July 26, 2009

Annie Get Your Gun

‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ off mark at Porthouse!

‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ was the first musical I directed. I go to productions of the show with fond expectations. Unfortunately, Porthouse Theatre’s present production of Annie didn’t totally fulfill my needs.

‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ is a musical with lyrics and music written by Irving Berlin. The book was developed by Herb Fields and his sister Dorothy, who conceived the piece for the legendary Ethel Merman, the show’s first Annie.

It is basically a fictionalized version of the professional life of Annie Oakley, a sharpshooter from Cincinnati, Ohio, and her husband, Frank Butler. Its score includes such wonderful songs as "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly", "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun", "They Say It’s Wonderful.” And, depending on which version you see ,"Colonel Buffalo Bill", "I'm A Bad, Bad Man" and "An Old-Fashioned Wedding" may or may not be included. Even characters come and go.

Same show, different songs, different characters? Yes. Each time there was a revival of the show, there were changes.

The show’s history is filled with Broadway gossip and legends. Originally, Jerome Kern wrote the music, but he died and was replaced by Irving Berlin. The production’s show stopper, "There's No Business Like Show Business," was almost left out because Berlin got the impression that one of the producers did not like it. Ethel Merman only agreed to the 1966 revival if more focus was placed on her. Singing sections by Annie’s brother and sisters were dropped, a sub-plot involving the romance between Winnie, the sister of Frank Butler's assistant and Tommy, her part-Native-American boyfriend were dropped, along with two the show’s most endearing songs. Other tidbits include that Nick Jonas (of the now famous Jonas Brothers) played Little Jake in the 2001 revival and besides Merman, Annie has been portrayed by the likes of Bernadette Peters, Betty Hutton, Susan Lucci, Reba McEntire, Marilou Henner and Mary Martin.

With all that said, what’s with the Porthouse production? I found the pacing too languid, the musical numbers often lacking dynamism, the humor level weak and some questionable casting.
That’s not to say the production is terrible. It’s not. It just isn’t everything it could have been, which is surprising, as this is the kind of material that director Terri Kent usually does so well.

Beautiful and vocally talented Kayce Cummings is just too much of a lady as Annie. Even with dirty clothes and a smudged face and a gallant try to sound back woodsy, Cummings is just too classy. Fabio Polanco has a great singing voice, but is missing the charisma, the matinee idol looks and dynamic personality to make Frank Butler live. The duo doesn’t ever interpersonally connect and convince that they are really in love. Though their “Old Fashioned Wedding” is well paced, “Anything You Can Do” lacked fun. It was well sung, but not as delightful as necessary.

Brian Duncan sang well, but lacked any depth of character as Tommy, while Alyssa Bruno sparkled as Winnie. Their “fun” song, “Who Do You Love, I Hope,” was too automatic, not filled with mirth.

The always dependable Maryann Black was properly air-headed as Dolly and Marc Moritz was fun as Charlie Davenport. Black, who also served as the show’s choreographer, did a nice job of creating some clever numbers, especially her kneeling kick-line in the show’s opening. Unfortunately, she was blessed with a group of male dancers who were less than up to the task. (Talking about Black, has consideration been given to starring her in a production of ‘HELLO DOLLY’?)

Why Little Jake was played by a girl, I’ll never understand. The part demands an impish, scene stealing little boy.

As was the case in Porthouse’s opening show, ‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM,’ Jonathan Swoboda’s musical direction left much to be desired. The pacing lagged and there were instrumental problems, especially with the brass.

The special effects in the shooting scenes were lacking in creativity and “wow.” I missed the omitted Sitting Bull adoption of Annie ceremony, which includes the delightful song, ”I’m An Indian Too.”

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: As demonstrated by the standing ovation at the conclusion of the second-night-of-the-run production, audiences will enjoy ‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.’ For me, on the way home I envisioned the production that I know Terri Kent was capable of placing on the Porthouse Stage. It was great!

‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ runs until August 9 at Porthouse Theatre . For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to