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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Annie Get Your Gun A Straight Shooting Smash
at Village Theatre

Also see David's review of Hairspray

Annie Get Your Gun
Josh Feinsilber, Analiese Emerson Guettinger, Maggie Barry and Vicki Noon
Perhaps "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun," as composer/lyricist Irving Berlin wrote in one of his timeless tunes for the musical Annie Get Your Gun, but you can get an audience to rise to its feet with applause if you do right. And that is exactly what director Steve Tomkins, musical director R.J. Tancioco, and co-choreographer (with Tomkins) Kristin Culp have done with their well-nigh perfect production at Village Theatre of this venerable 1946 musical (presented using the 1999 Peter Stone script revision of Herbert and Dorothy Fields' original).

Stone's version re-jiggers things a bit, and politically corrects the treatment of the American Indians in the story (gone is Annie's quaintly patronizing "I'm an Indian Too"), making the show Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody's reenactment of the rowdy romance between ace marksman Frank Butler and backwoods sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who first beat Frank in a match and then wedded and bedded him in a union that lasted some 50 years. Stone also wisely re-positioned the show's timeless anthem "There's No Business Like Show Business" as a rousing, bring on the whole company opening number, and from start to finish, the Village cast ensures we will agree with that sentiment.

Of course, the show was written for Broadway belter supreme Ethel Merman, so you need a performer with star quality and a vibrant voice in the title role, and Vicki Noon, a one-time Village Kids-Stage prodigy who recently defied gravity as Elphaba in a Wicked national touring company, defies any comparisons to Merman (whom she ever so slightly resembles) and makes her own Annie Oakley a brassy, sassy diamond in the rough with a romantic streak a mile wide. The captivating Miss Noon can coax a laugh out of the old comedy classic "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" or caress the audience with such poignant Berlin ballads as "They Say It's Wonderful" or the lesser known, but equally potent, "Lost in His Arms." Her delivery is more Reba McIntyre and less Merman which works great, and some of her money notes will make you wish you could have seen her as Elphaba. Noon's Annie is at the center of one of the show's most accomplished scenes, as she croons to her much younger siblings (adorable Analiese Emerson Guettinger, Maggie Barry and Josh Feinsilber) with Berlin's beautiful "Moonshine Lullabye," backed up by three train porters engagingly played by Casey Craig, Jon Lutyens and Will Halsey, part of the show's top-notch ensemble.

Dane Stokinger as Frank Butler plays well off of Noon's Annie and is best showcased in the jaunty all-male "My Defenses Are Down," a campy sort of homage to choreographer Jack Cole which Tomkins manages to keep from having the homo-erotic edges it had on Broadway. Kathryn Van Meter has sharpened her comic chops to hilariously embody the show's villainess, the bigoted, dumb as a rock Dolly Tate, who wants Frank for herself. Others of note in the show are Hugh Hasting's bigger than life and twice as warm-hearted Buffalo Bill, Johnny Patchamatia's slyly humorous and fatherly Chief Sitting Bull, and Noel Barbuto's charming Pawnee Bill. As Dolly's kid sister Winnie Tate and her half-Indian beau Tommy Keeler, Taylor Niemeyer and Gabriel Corey are a sprightly pair of song and dance dynamos, even though Winnie and Tommy's subplot is so extraneous they were often eliminated completely in earlier versions.

Number after number, co-choreographers Tomkins and his talented protégé Kristin Culp employ the sharp and spirited cast expertly, from a slam-bang "There's No Business Like Show Business" through to a rip-roaring "Sun in the Morning." There is a near Broadway-level of excitement in these numbers that is a thrill to see, and when they are being performed on sets as gorgeous as those Bill Forrester has provided—his Hotel Brevoort Ballroom is an absolute stunner—it's chicken-skin time. Aaron Copp's lighting design is successfully in sync with Forrester's set, and Karen Ann Ledger's costumes are as eye-catching as they are plentiful. R. J. Tancioco's 10-piece orchestra easily sounds rich and robust enough to be twice that size, and Brent Warwick's sound design strikes the best balance between vocalists and instrumentalists as any I've heard in quite awhile.

This isn't the Berlin musical you expect to see arrive for the holidays, but with one too many stagings of White Christmas in recent years, Annie Get Your Gun is just the holiday cocktail. There should be big business in show business for Village Theatre, thanks to this hearty hit!

Annie Get Your Gun runs through December 31, 2011 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, Washington, then moves to Everett Performing Arts Center at 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett, WA. For ticket prices and more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Photo by Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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