Saturday, June 18, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Annie Get Your Gun
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields
Book Revisions by Peter Stone
Produced by Marla Gotay
Directed by Drew Franklin
Musical Director: Paolo C. Perez
Stage Manager: Jenna Marie Sparacio
Sound Design: Steve Jacobs
Costume Designer: Courtney Leigh Newman
Choreographer: Heather Shore
Narrows Community Theater
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
101st Street & Fort Hamilton Parkway
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY 11209
Reviewed 6/11/16 

I recently saw Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater, which is a modern facility that can easily seat 470 people. I would estimate that 200 people were in the audience to experience this excellent Narrows Community Theater production of the old classic - purified and revised by Peter Stone in 1999 for the sake of political correctness and to avoid even the slightest possibility of offending anyone. Gone from the libretto are what were considered insensitive references to American Indians and if you want to hear the songs "Colonel Buffalo Bill" and "I'm An Indian Too", you are going to have to buy a CD of the original 1946 Broadway production because those two songs are not featured here. There is still a reference to two Indian workers traveling in the "wrong" train car and to one woman's opposition to her sister marrying a man who was Half-Irish and Half-Injun. Although I enjoyed the songs for years, I had not really understood their social significance until I learned the back story by seeing the show. 

Dorothy Fields had the idea for a musical about Annie Oakley to star her friend Ethel Merman. The show is based partially on the real-life story of Annie Oakley and her love affair with her competitive shooting rival Frank Bulter. Unfortunately, liberty is often taken with the facts to enhance dramatic effect. In real life, Frank Butler did get beaten in a shooting match by Annie Oakley but he quickly became her manager and her husband. He was never jealous that his wife was the better shooter. They were on their own for several years before signing up with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In life, she was a strong advocate for women's rights, for suffrage, and especially for women knowing how to defend themselves by using guns. Her husband literally starved himself to death within months of his wife's death.

Marla Gotay as the producer did an outstanding job in bringing all this talent together, Drew Franklin as the director brought out the best from the actors. Heather Shore choreographed the numbers superbly. Paolo C. Perez expertly conducted the orchestra. Above all, the actors/singers/dancers made the show. The casting was superb because not a single false note was to be heard. Their performances were flawless. Sean Jarrell as Frank Butler and Jennifer Prezioso as Annie Oakley played off each other quite well while Nicholas Hudson as Buffalo Bill Cody moved the show along very nicely. Jennifer Prezioso successfully conveyed how Annie Oakley grew as a person. Sitting Bull, played by Bennett Silverstein, was so convincing, it was hard to believe he was from Brooklyn. The actors separately and together as an ensemble were equally flawless in their presentations.

When I attended the show, Councilman Vincent J. Gentile presented Narrows Community Theater with a $2,500.00 government grant to help with the expenses incurred by this non-profit community theater but he did not fully recognize or appreciate how professional their productions are. At a time when tickets for Broadway shows are priced out of the hands of ordinary New Yorkers (tickets for regular shows are in three digits), this is a great opportunity to see high quality, professional theater productions for a reasonable price. Many Community Theatre Companies in the New York metropolitan area are blessed with an abundance of talent. It is also true that many have actors who should have retired from the profession long ago. Narrow Community Theater is solidly in the better category. Given the quality of the productions, the friendliness of the staff, and the low cost of their concession items, I will definitely return to catch future shows.

Annie Get Your Gun is a rootin, tootin, shooting Cinderella story with a happy ending.

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