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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Annie Get Your Gun
Prince Music Theater

Annie Get Your Gun
Andrea McArdle and Jeffrey Coon
It's hard for a musical to go wrong with a score as superb as the one Irving Berlin wrote for Annie Get Your Gun. And it's nearly impossible for a musical to go wrong when it's got a star like Andrea McArdle, one of the few contemporary performers with the voice and the star power to pull off a big role like Annie Oakley convincingly. And sure enough, the Prince Music Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun doesn't go wrong.

But it sure comes close at times. This isn't a bad Annie Get Your Gun, but aside from its great score and its luminous leading lady, it's not a particularly exciting one either.

Hometown girl McArdle makes a terrific Annie Oakley - charming and spunky in comic numbers like "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" and utterly sympathetic in gorgeous, wistful ballads like "I Got Lost In His Arms." She seems completely comfortable in this role (which she has played several times before), and Berlin's score seems almost tailor-made for her big, brassy voice. And the guileless look of wonder on her face when a trio of veterans tell her how "There's No Business Like Show Business" is worth the price of admission.

Annie spends most of the show falling in and out of love with the nation's top marksman, Frank Butler, and battling with him to see who is the better shot. In the competition for the audience's affections, however, Annie is the clear winner, and it isn't even a fair fight. Jeffrey Coon has a rich, booming baritone, but he's wrong for the role of Frank Butler in every other respect; he needs to be more suave and less swaggering. The pudgy, barrel-chested actor simply isn't dashing enough to be convincing as a lady-killer who sweeps all the women on the wild west circuit off their feet. (Seeing a parade of chorus girls fawn over him is almost laughable; seeing McArdle swoon over him is just sad.) Coon has given good performances in more modest leading roles; he was an excellent Georg in the Walnut's She Loves Me a few years back. But as a sharpshooter, he's pretty dull.

Outshining Coon is John Scherer as Charlie Davenport, manager of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Charlie may be a thankless role, but Scherer is charming and debonair, and he has good chemistry with McArdle in their big dance number, "I Got the Sun In the Morning." (This is the first Annie Get Your Gun I've seen where I was secretly hoping Annie would end up with Charlie.) And the ever-reliable Mary Martello works hard and gets some laughs as Dolly Tate. But the rest of the ensemble seem to be going through the motions, and a lot of the comedy in Herbert & Dorothy Fields' book falls flat. (This production uses the 1966 revival script, which means the secondary romantic couple from the 1946 version, Winnie and Tommy, is absent. So is the clumsy attempt at political correctness from the 1999 revival.)

On the plus side, Richard M. Parison, Jr.'s production feels intimate; some entrances are made from the back of the hall, and McArdle does several numbers on a runway around the orchestra pit, making eye contact with the audience. And the climax of act one, the ceremony where Annie is adopted by Chief Sitting Bull, is surprisingly dramatic and thrilling. (The locally based Native Nations Dance Theater advised the production; its chairman, Delwin Fiddler Jr., is a direct descendent of Sitting Bull.)

Still, despite its parade of hits, act one of this Annie Get Your Gun seems to drag. Mercedes Ellington's choreography is too fussy, especially on a too-long "I'm a Bad, Bad Man." And the stage set is dominated by one bulky set piece, a spinning multi-level platform that is functional but ugly. It's revolving, but it's revolting.

(The opening night performance was marred by several microphone glitches, and the shotgun gag which marks Annie's entrance was ruined by a poorly timed sound effect.)

The Prince's Annie Get Your Gun is uneven, starting with the mismatched casting of the two leads. Too much of the production seems perfunctory and uninspired. Nevertheless, you'll leave this production at the end of the night with a smile on your face, mostly due to Andrea McArdle's warm, unaffected performance. The role of the ornery, lovable Annie Oakley is a perfect fit for McArdle, and it's a real pleasure to see her doin' what comes natur'lly.

Annie Get Your Gun runs through Sunday, December 31, 2006. Ticket prices range from $35 to $55, and may be purchased by calling the Prince Music Theater box office at 215-569-9700, in person at 1412 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, or online at www.princemusictheater.org.

Annie Get Your Gun
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields
Directed by Richard M. Parison, Jr.
Music Direction... Eric Barnes
Choreographer ... Mercedes Ellington
Scenic Designer ... Todd Edward Ivins
Costume Designer ... Maggie Baker-Atkins
Lighting Designer ... Shelley Hicklin
Sound Designer ... Otts Munderloh
Casting Director ... Janet Foster
Hair & Wig Design ... Jon Carter
Assistant Director ... Dawn K. Cowie
Production Stage Manager ... Brian V. Klinger

Cast:
John Scherer ... Charlie Davenport
Mary Martello ... Dolly Tate
Dan Schiff ... Foster Wilson/Major Gordon Lillie, aka Pawnee Bill
Jeffrey Coon ... Frank Butler
Andrea McArdle ... Annie Oakley
Caitlin Reilly ... Minnie Oakley/Ensemble
Josie Andrews/Kristina Biddle ... Jessie Oakley (alternates)
Erica Mabry/Jamieson O'Brien ... Nellie Oakley (alternates)
Wesley Cappiello/Conor O'Brien ... Little Jake Oakley (alternates)
Christopher Coucill ... Colonel William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill
Arthur Ryan... Chief Sitting Bull
Other Roles/Ensemble ... Michael Philip O'Brien, Elyse McKay Taylor, Andrea Norah Wright, Alexis Sims, Michael Newman, Benjamin Scott Kramer, Kevin Cammarota, Cynthia Raff, Anne Connors, Jodi Kuhlmann, Conrad Ricamora.


Photo: Mark Garvin


-- Tim Dunleavy



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