So, Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up. If you’ve never seen a musical, this is the show for you. If your entire knowledge of musical theater consists of seeing Sideshow Bob singing Gilbert and Sullivan on an episode of “The Simpsons,” this is the show for you. If Broadway tunes make you want to throw up … well … OK … scratch that last one.
But you get my drift. Few musicals are more accessible. Irving Berlin’s songs are iconic and yet still fresh. The feel-good story is witty, but can also tug at your heart. Best of all, the folks at Barksdale have done a bang-up job of producing the show.
Any incarnation of “Annie Get Your Gun” rises and falls on the comic skills and singing voice of the actress playing Annie Oakley. Early in the show, I decided Robyn O’Neill possesses a charming voice with somewhat limited range. Dang, was I ever wrong. By the second act, she was knocking them off like tin cans on a fence post. Her rendition of “I Got the Sun in the Morning” was particularly affecting.
Russell Rowland at first seemed a bit too city slicker for the role of sharpshooter Frank Butler. But Rowland’s precise and rich baritone is a perfect foil for O’Neill’s warbling early in the first act. Later, as they perform “Anything You Can Do,” I’m thinking this gang needs its own cast album.
Probably the best thing about this production is how O’Neill and Rowland’s voices circle one another before blending together. Irving Berlin was no dummy, so the vocal progression of the characters didn’t happen by accident. But O’Neill and Rowland confidently deliver the goods, and the chemistry between them develops before our eyes. Early in the show, they seem like unlikely romantic material. Then we’re rooting for them to get together. By the end, you can’t imagine them apart.
Peter Stone revised the book several years ago for the revival that starred Bernadette Peters and later Reba McEntire. Among other things, he removed some of the insensitive Indian humor from Herbert and Dorothy Fields’ original book. But Sitting Bull is still a dry wit, and Michael Hawke brings the timing of a seasoned vaudevillian to the role.
The rest of the cast is excellent. David Bridgewater is bigger than life as Buffalo Bill. We can almost see the supercharged hormones seeping from the pores of Jan Guarino’s Dolly Tate. The child actors playing Annie’s siblings (Cory Williams, Annie Hulcher and Gray Crenshaw) hit their marks like professionals. And the ensemble is strong with a lot of personality.
This show has a distinctive fluidity because of Bruce Miller’s direction and Leslie Owens-Harrington’s choreography. This is a large cast in a small theater, so it’s natural that the there would be a lot of weaving during the musical numbers. But interestingly, the elliptical movement occurs during the nonmusical scenes, as well. This dynamic is also a product of the circular stage. Mercedes L. Schaum’s playful scenery includes a large show ring that rotates on occasion. Gosh, there’s just no business like show business.
Amy Grant Hruska leads an all-woman band that is perfectly tuned for the space. Lynne M. Hartman’s lighting design helps create the atmosphere of a show in a show. And though there are few surprises in Emily Mason’s costumes, they are entertaining and richly detailed.
I only wish that the cast could discard the wireless microphones. I’m not complaining because I understand the necessity for them. Among other things, this kind of show can stress a singing voice to the breaking point during a long run. But O’Neill and Rowland have such wonderful voices and Barksdale is such an intimate theater, I couldn’t help imagining hearing them without amplification.
This is one rip-roaring Wild West show. Don’t miss it. S
“Annie Get Your Gun” continues through Aug. 3 at Barksdale Theatre, 1601 Willow Lawn Drive. Tickets cost $26-$34 and can be purchased at the box office or by calling 282-2620.
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