The absurdity of Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley.
Posted by: portenopete 10:36 am EDT 09/25/21
In reply to: re: Long missing and presumed lost - JohnDunlop 10:37 pm EDT 09/24/21

I was not alive to see Merman originate the role and I was still in the cradle when she did the Lincoln Center revival in the late '60s, so I never saw her do it live onstage, but from listening to the OBC and OLCRC and seeing this clip, I am mystified how the ludicrousness of the casting did not affect the fortunes of the show. I wouldn't argue- as some have- that "she couldn't act", but I have never seen a shred of evidence that she had the ability to assume a totally different energy and persona, in this case a backwoods girl in her late teens who has never been out of the Ozarks. There are many fine actors who have made lucrative and successful careers by offering up subtle shadings on a "type". Hugh Grant comes to mind, as someone who is constantly finding new details within the strictures of a handsome, intelligent, awkward, neurotic upper-middle class Englishman. But watching Merman in that TV clip with her beehive-ish Merman 'do and swinging her arms and grinning, it's basically a variety show with Ethel as the guest. I can't imagine anyone who didn't know the show would understand who exactly she is meant to be or where she's from or how old she is.

Casting Bernadette Peters was equally boneheaded (not to mention Susan Lucci) but Fran & Barry Weissler at least made one genius decision and hired Reba McEntire to take over. In her hands and in her voice and personality, the character of Annie Oakley suddenly made sense. (As it did in Richard Jones' 2009 staging at the Young Vic with Jane Horrocks; a version that was admittedly idiosyncratic and a harbinger of the Daniel Fish Oklahoma!.)

Judy Garland in those extant outtakes before Betty Hutton came in, seemed equally to the manner born. Her ragged appearance and scrawny physique suited Annie beautifully and she was in her early 20's, a perfect age to play the role. (Hutton was much more scrubbed and perky but still she had youthful viguor...oh so much vigour!) Even Mary Martin- every bit the established star that Merman was- and probably a bit old at 34-ish- still had a naïveté and sweetness that made her Annie memorable.Even ten years later on TV with John Raitt as Frank, I find Martin's Annie very touching and funny.)

Don't mean to rag on the Merm, but it always has seemed (to me) like the craziest casting choice ever made.

Previous: re: Long missing and presumed lost - JohnDunlop 10:37 pm EDT 09/24/21
Next: Merman & Martin - reed23 07:20 am EDT 09/26/21

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