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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Delightful Production of Annie Get Your Gun

Also see Richard's reviews of The Light in the Piazza and The Witch's Curse: Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddygore

Annie Get Your Gun
Jessica Raaum and
Byron Westlund

Foothill Music Theatre is presenting Irving Berlin and Herbert and Dorothy Fields' Annie Get Your Gun. This rootin' tootin' good time musical is playing at the Smithwick Theatre on the Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills through August 20th.

Annie Get Your Gun is probably one of Irving Berlin's greatest musicals, with classic Broadway songs like "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Anything You Can Do" and "I Got the Sun in the Morning." It also features one of the greatest characters in musical history, the gun-toting Annie Oakley. I have seen many Annies, starting with the great Ethel Merman at the Imperial Theatre. The original ran an amazing 1147 performances. Others I have seen in the role are Mary Martin, Benay Venuta, Bernadette Peters and Reba McEntire. I also saw the legendry Judy Garland playing the role one day on the Culver City lot (later, Ms. Garland was fired and Betty Hutton took over the role for the MGM film.) Granted, this musical is an old chestnut, but somehow the music, chorus singing and dancing make it come alive.

Jay Manley has assembled 40 talented singers and dancers with exciting choreography by Tyler Risk and an outstanding set by Joe Ragey. Catherine Snider conducts a solid orchestra that adds to the excitement of this dated show.

Annie Get Your Gun is loosely based on the life of the sharpshooter from Darke County, Ohio. The original choice for the musical's composer was Jerome Kern, but he collapsed and died suddenly, and producers Rodgers and Hammerstein turned to Irving Berlin for the score. The showstopping song "There's No Business Like Show Business" was almost left out of the show altogether because the producers did not like it.

Jay Manley is using the Peter Stone version from the 1999 revival. Annie (Jessica Raaum) emerges as a competent, competitive force of nature, every inch Frank Butler's (Byron Westlund) equal. He must meet her more than half way. The presence of Chief Sitting Bull (Steve Completo) has been successfully adjusted as well. The depiction of the Native American is politically correct now, since the song "I'm An Indian Too" has been cut from the score. Previously cut characters, the biracial (Native American/Irish) Tommy (Ted Zervoulakos) and his love interest Winnie (Jennifer Martin), are back and are first class dancers. Dolly (Katie O'Bryon) is not so matronly now and she is a much younger comic character who longs for Frank, always unsuccessfully. Her presence lends a nice tension to Annie's relationship with Frank.

Annie Get Your Gun starts as a flashback, with Buffalo Bill (John Musgrave) coming up onto the stage to recall his heyday when he had Annie and Frank in his wild west show. The set turns into a large tent-like affair and the action is played under the tent. The proscenium stage has photos of the real Annie Oakley and Frank Butler adorning each side.

Jessica Raaum (The Wizard of Oz, The Cabaret Girl, Singin' in the Rain) is a feisty Annie. Her voice is similar to Reba McIntire's and she has that certain backwoods accent and a deep perception of the homespun Berlin melodies. Her voice is sublime when singing "Moonshine Lullaby" and "They Say It's Wonderful."

Byron Westlund (Company, Merrily We Roll Along at Foothill) is excellent in his acting of the preening Frank Butler. He has great vocal cords in the opening number of "There's No Business Like Show Business," but is unable to reach some of the notes in his other songs, such as "The Girl That I Marry" and "They Say It's Wonderful (there is a possibility he was having problems on the hot Sunday afternoon that we saw him since I know he has a great voice).

John Musgrave (Brigadoon at Foothill and Ragtime at TheatreWorks) is a fine addition as the perfect Buffalo Bill. He belts out "There's No Business Like Show Business" is a grand manner. Steve Completo (Urinetown, Sweeney Todd at Foothill) is excellent and politically correct as Chief Sitting Bull. Katie O'Bryon (Hayfever at Pacific Rep) tends to overact on a grand scale as Dolly.

Ted Zervoulakos (West Side Story and Dreamgirls at AMT of San Jose) as Tommy and Jennifer Martin (Miss Liberty at 42nd St Moon and Oklahoma! at Woodminster) are outstanding in the dance department. Their rendition of "I'll Share It All With You" is beautifully presented in voice and dance. They are also captivating in the duet "Who Do You Love, I Hope?"

Doug Brees as Charlie Davenport, the general manager of the show; Foster Wilson as the Proprietor of the Wilson Arms Hotel; and Ted Hatrak as Pawnee Bill are good in smaller roles. Michael Rhone is excellent in his small roles which include the assistant to the general manager and the major domo at the Hotel Brevoort. His uses a faux snobbish accent when announcing the guests to the society dances in the second act. The cowboy "Moonshine Lullaby" trio number is melodious when sung by Sean Patrick O'Connor, Michael Rhone and Gary Stanford.

Annie's young sisters and a brother are delightfully played by Erin Stevenson, Catherine Stevenson and Matt Bertken. The latter reminds me of a young Donald O'Connor in some of those early Universal comedies.

Tyler Risk's choreography is full of vim and vinegar. The dancers are an energetic young group, and the choral work is marvelous. Jay Manley breathes life into this old warhorse of a musical.

Annie Get Your Gun plays at the Smithwick Theatre at Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Rd just off El Monte Exit West, off Hwy 280 in Los Altos Hills through August 20th. For tickets please call the box office at 650-949-7360 (open Thursday-Saturday, 5 - 9 pm, Sunday 12- 4 pm) You can also charge by phone on a 24 hour hot line at 650-949-7414 or visiting www.foothillmusicals.com.


Photo: Nancy Fitzgerald


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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