Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Annie Get Your Gun
Annie Get Your Gun is a fictionalized version of the early life of Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter from Ohio, and how she became famous by entering a shooting match with Frank Butler. Butler toured the country with his act and in 1881, when a $100 bet was placed that Butler could beat any local in a shooting contest, Oakley entered and she won when Butler missed on his 25th shot. Soon after, the two of them began a relationship and married. While the musical fictionalizes their story it does accurately show how they met and how they both became famous with their inclusion in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. However, I'm not certain if the rivalry between the two of them, as it exists throughout the show, is something that was real or just fabricated to give the musical some dramatic tension.
Irving Berlin's score features numerous songs that became classics, including "There's No Business Like Show Business," "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun," "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly", "They Say It's Wonderful", and "Anything You Can Do." This production is based on the 1999 revival which features a substantially rewritten book by Peter Stone and sets the story as a show within a show, presented as part of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. The updated version also eliminates some of the un-PC situations and language, and rearranges the order of some of the songs, eliminating a couple. For some reason, the Palms production also drops the sweet and charming "Moonshine Lullaby," which is a shame.
Director JR Stuart's colorful, fun, and swift moving production stars Aimee Blau-Little and Rob Watson as Annie and Frank. They are both very good, with Blau-Little appropriate as the feisty and rugged yet charmingly attractive tomboy Annie, and Watson a stern and conceited yet loving Frank. They both bring a sense of nuance to the parts, from Blau-Little's spunky and energetic yet innocent portrayal of the girl who finds herself falling in love with Frank, to Watson's deep sense of defenselessness. Also, while both are accomplished singers, Watson's deep voice really sells his songs.
In the supporting cast, David Simmons is excellent as the fun loving yet confident Buffalo Bill, and Alex Gonzalez, who gets some of the show's best jokes as Sitting Bull, is outstanding as well. Sarah Hayes is exceptional as the conniving Dolly, while Melissa Mitchell as Dolly's sister Winnie and Nicholas Gallardo as Tommy make a charming couple.
Stuart achieves a sweet, spunky and delightful production, including a nice addition of staging part of the act one finale out in the audience. However, a few of the comic lines and moments are missed by the cast. Hopefully, once they ease a bit more into their roles, they won't rush the comic lines and the humor will shine through even more. Lauran Stanis' choreography is joyful, country themed, and vibrantly delivered. The set design is simple yet fun and Tia Hawkes' costumes are exceptional, with a wide range of styles and colors. Michael Haslanger's lighting is ever changing, yet also nicely sets the various moods, especially in the romantic moments and the sweet scene at the opening of act two on the deck of a ship at night.
Even with a few very small shortcomings, with an exceptional Irving Berlin score, a gifted cast, and lively creative elements, the Palms' Annie Get Your Gun, while not quite a bull's eye, is still a rip roarin' good time.
The Palms Theatre production of Annie Get Your Gun runs through February 14th, 2015, at 5247 East Brown Road in Mesa. Tickets and information for this show as well as their other productions and concerts can be found at thepalmstheatre.com or by calling 480 924-6260.
Directed by JR Stuart
Cast: (in alphabetical order)