Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review Annie Get Your Gun

Annie Get Your Gun
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Original Book by Dorothy Fields
As Revised by Peter Stone

Of Arms And The Gal We Sing

High time for TLT and her pistol packin' nag to mosey on down to the Union Theatre in Southwark via Ohio for 1946 musical theatre classic Annie Get Your Gun.

We say 1946 but we should be accurate with our reviewing bullet (points). The libretto was given a make over by the late Peter Stone 53 years later to readjust some attitudes towards native Americans in the show which seemed natur'l at the time but decidedly off target half a century later.

Even so, this is a cracking musical, originally conceived by Dorothy Fields as a vehicle for her great pal Ethel Merman with a splendid score by the late Irving Berlin, an eleventh hour replacement when songwriter Jerome Kern died suddenly. Oh, and did we mention that a pair of novice producers were behind the show - by the name of Rogers and Hammerstein?

By the time Berlin came on the scene Dorothy and her brother Herbert Fields had already put together the book and made suggestions for the songs, many of which the incoming songwriter took up with spectacular results - Doin' What Comes Natur'lly, The Girl That I Marry, You Can't Get A Man With A Gun, I Got The Sun In The Morning, An Old Fashioned Wedding and Anything You Can Do are all standards which come out of the show.

We may have forgotten one unforgettable song, but remind us near the end of this review ...

Director Kirk Jameson's production has a spot-on feisty but vulnerable Annie in blonde pigtailed grubby Gemma MacLean with her rifle and a brace of critters shot for the cooking pot. And the kind of competitive vocals scoring a bullseye for target shooting and showbiz.

She's matched by broad-chested Blair Robertson as Frank Butler, star of a celebrated Wild West show, disconcerted by the backwoods ragamuffin and her ragamuffinette sisters and brother (Sarah Day, Chanai Ankrah and Lawrence Guntert) before conceding her feminine sharpshooting prowess and eventually ... Hell, you don't expect us to give away the story, do ya?

While the first act is jam packed with some of the finest songs in the biz known as show, structurally it does feel a little strained which made us wonder whether the 1999 rejigs slightly unbalanced the symmetry of the piece. However it all toughens up considerably in the second act, alongside more wonderful songs.

There also seems to be a very interesting post Second World War subtext as Annie returns from a European tour where she's almost like a returning redneck GI who's been educated in the ways of literacy - and the world.

Even if there's a touch of the American equivalent of Brief Encounter when the rebellious woman seems forced to settle down with An Old Fashioned Wedding (but always with a competitive flavour in the battling lyrics).

There's plenty of strength in the supporting players - Mark Pollard is a relaxed and convincingly jovial Buffalo Bill.  Once Guntert establishes the change and doubling up from brother Little Jake to  Sitting Bull, he makes a canny and dignified native American chief.

Dafyd Lansley is the coyly determined business manager with Lala Barlow as Butler's wisecracking assistant Dolly. Georgia Conlan as Winnie her cute and sassy younger sister has an eye on Dominic Harbison's Tommy in a double act sub-plot with the infectiously jaunty question and answer song Who Do You Love, I Hope?

It's a show that gains in impetus as it rollicks along with wit and plenty of moments to touch the heart. Amy Watts's straightforward design using ladders and curtains with a stage-on-a-stage for the show-within-a-show is both efficient and evocative.

Meanwhile Alex Bellamy's musical direction and Ste Clough's choreography find their stride in the Union's brickwork space with rousing melodies and tip top dance routines.

And the songs, always those songs engendering both poignant and happy feelings because of course unforgettably There's No Business Like Show Business! Aww, you thought we'd forgotten?

We hang a green light star on the dressing room door for this crowd pleasing business merger of target practice, Wild West antics, toe tapping songs and natr'lly the highs and lows of showbiz!

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