Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens 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
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 6/11/16 

Annie Get Your Gun is a musical with lyrics and music by Irving Berlin, and a book by Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert Fields. The story is a fictionalized version of the life of Annie Oakley (1860-1926), a sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. For those who have been living under a rock since 1946 when Ethel Merman arrived on Broadway in the role of Annie Oakley, this musical contains such classic show tunes as "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," "The Girl That I Marry," "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun," "They Say It's Wonderful," "I Got The Sun In The Morning," "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," and "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)." Add to that a rivalry and romance between Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, and a secondary love affair between an underage girl and an Irish/Indian boy (just as Rodgers & Hammerstein II included a secondary mixed-race romance in South Pacific), and you have the formula for another interesting, if not preachy, socially progressive musical designed to have you rooting for forbidden love, applauding interracial marriage, and opposing discrimination in any form (except when it's against white people). Whites are liberally criticized in the 1999 libretto written by Peter Stone (and used here) for stealing the country from Native Americans and for taking all the natural resources found on Indian land. Not only is there no reference made to the brutal and savage acts some Indians perpetrated against settlers in the frontier territories but all potentially offensive songs and references to Native American Indians have been completely white-washed out of the story. Chief Sitting Bull, who "adopts" Annie Oakley as his "daughter" (in real life, calling her Watanya Cicilla, which was translated as Little Sure Shot in public advertisements), is presented as a kindly, old, wise man who has stoically suffered the slings and arrows heaped upon him by the Great White Father. His presence in the show is designed to have you empathize with him and the perceived plight of his people.  

The show premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on May 16, 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances. Annie Get Your Gun had its first Broadway revival in 1966 at the Music Theater of Lincoln Center. This production opened on May 31, 1966 and ran until July 9, followed by a short 10-week U.S. Tour. It returned to Broadway at the Broadway Theatre on September 21, 1966 for 78 performances. Ethel Merman reprised her original role as Annie. The libretto and score were also revised with the controversial secondary romance between Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate being completely eliminated. In 1999, a new production had its pre-Broadway engagement at the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.) from December 29, 1998 to January 24, 1999. Previews began on Broadway on February 2, 1999 at the Marquis Theatre, with an official opening on March 4, 1999. It closed on September 1, 2001 after 35 previews and 1,045 performances. This revival starred Bernadette Peters as Annie. The musical won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and Bernadette Peters won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. As already noted, Peter Stone re-wrote the book to make it less offensive, re-integrated the subplot romance between Winnie and Tommy, and dropped "Colonel Buffalo Bill", "I'm A Bad, Bad Man", and "I'm An Indian Too" from the show. Historians have criticized the book for being an inaccurate depiction of Annie Oakley's life. The show portrays Annie as a loud, boisterous character when in reality she had a quiet personality and did needlepoint in her spare time. 

Marla Gotay, the producer of the show, decided that in terms of script and score, the Narrows Community Theater adaptation of Annie Get Your Gun would be "akin to the 1999 revival to avoid offensive scenes" that were in the original. Reinforcing that thought, Jennifer Prezioso, who does a fine job portraying Annie Oakley, was quoted as saying, "we wanted to make it more respectful to all cultures and we've done the best we could so everyone feels comfortable." I give the company credit for continuing down that politically correct road all the way to the end by utilizing non-traditional casting. For example, the chief, unrivaled star of the show was Bennett Silverstein, who did a remarkable job as Sitting Bull. Hardly a natural born Lakota Sioux, Silverstein was hilarious, yet sober, in his portrayal of the Indian Chief (who together with the confederated Lakota Tribes and the Northern Cheyenne defeated the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer on June 25, 1876). George Raiola (Running Deer) and Alex Deverson (Eagle Feather) were also not evidently of American Indian descent and yet they nevertheless put in impressive and believable performances in their small roles showing that perhaps, after all, they can be Indians too! Liam Specht, who played Little Jake, Annie's Little Brother, has a natural talent and a charismatic stage presence. He has a great future in show business. Two other standout performers were Sarah Cappiello (Dolly Tate) and Jessie Lanza (Winnie Tate). I could nit-pick here and there questioning whether the "love at first sight" attraction between Annie Oakley (Jennifer Prezioso) and Frank Butler (Sean Jarrell) was believably portrayed and whether Nicholas Hudson was strong enough a personality to play the larger-than-life showman Buffalo Bill Cody, but in the end, the entire ensemble worked well together, all had great voices, and everything came together to pull off a successful production. An extraordinary talent, Paolo C. Perez, the Music Director, is a great asset to the success of the productions of the Narrows Community Theater.

This production of Annie Get Your Gun offers you light-hearted entertainment with a happy ending. It is ironic that in the musical, Frank Butler is portrayed as being jealous of Annie Oakley's success as a sharp-shooting star, while in reality, his ego was not threatened and he quickly offered to be her manager and her husband. So the lesson of Annie Oakley's life is to be yourself, while the musical suggests to little girls that if they want a man, they had better not trample upon his masculine ego. In both real life and in the musical, Annie Oakley sold the precious medals she received from European Royalty for her sharp-shooting skill in order to keep their money-losing Wild West Shows on the road. This generosity, more than anything else, reflects the kind of altruistic person Annie Oakley was and leaves us with regret that we never met her.

For more information regarding future productions of Narrows Community Theater, visit their website at http://narrowscommunitytheater.com/ 

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