Times and sensibilities have changed since Irving Berlin’s classic “Annie Get Your Gun,” about frontier sharpshooter Annie Oakley, took Broadway by storm in 1946.
Some of the references to American Indians by original writers Dorothy and Herbert Fields are now considered insensitive, necessitating a bit of revision, said Crown Uptown artistic director Matthew Rumsey, who is reviving the show beginning Friday because of audience demand.
“We are using the script (by Peter Stone) from the 1999 revival that took out such problem songs as ‘Colonel Buffalo Bill,’ ‘I’m a Bad, Bad Man’ and ‘I’m an Indian Too.’ I loved the original version, but it was amazing that they could say such things so blatantly back then,” said Rumsey, who performed in a past local production.
“Normally, I don’t like the idea of political correctness, because it makes things bland. But this version was just P.C. enough without harming the story or the charm. There are still references to Indians and discrimination, but they are handled a lot classier.”
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This Tony Award-winning revision also moved some songs around, including putting the blockbuster “There’s No Business Like Show Business” right at the very beginning to kick-start the show, Rumsey said.
“That gives us a chance to introduce what the show is all about and make the audience feel like they are in middle of a turn-of-the-century tent show,” he said. “The actors will also move all the props around themselves, like roustabouts. And we have a turntable for some cool effects and surprises.”
Playing homespun, plainspoken Annie Oakley is Texas native Erin Sherry.
“Annie is a pistol,” said Sherry, who splits her career between music theater shows and ballet, her first love. “She’s a very strong, independent woman. One of the most appealing things about her is that she never doubts herself.”
Sherry has appeared as Cassie in “A Chorus Line” and was the understudy for Lucy in “Jekyll and Hyde.”
“Annie also has a softer side, because she wants to find love,” Sherry said. “If a man said he wants a gal (who wears satin and smells of cologne), then, dang it, she’s gonna do that. But she discovers that she can’t fight who she is.
“She is also very stubborn and prideful. I don’t think I’m reaching when I play that,” Sherry said with a laugh.
She said she lost most of her Texas accent after living for three years in New York but that becoming Annie for this show has brought that natural twang back. Her favorite musical moments show the contrast in Annie’s emotions, from the comic lament “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” to the lushly romantic “I Got Lost in His Arms.”
“The music is so beautifully and powerfully written that they allow me to sing things I never thought possible,” Sherry said.
As Frank Butler, Annie’s shooting rival and romantic interest, Vincent Teschel said his character isn’t an egotist but a guy who has become used to always being the best at what he does.
“Frank is not an egotist in the modern sense,” Florida native Teschel said. “It’s not a negative, it’s the truth. He knows he’s good and that nobody ever went against him, because they knew he was good.”
Teschel has spent the past four years in regional theater, notably in similar cowboy roles including Will Rogers in “Will Rogers Follies” and Will Parker in “Oklahoma!”
“I think of Frank like the ringmaster. Buffalo Bill owns the show, but Frank has the demeanor. When the spotlight is on, he’s the one with his chest puffed out. He’s large and in charge,” said Teschel, who said his own 6-foot-5 frame helps establish that dominance on stage.
Teschel said “Annie Get Your Gun” is not some sappy romance but a love match based on real people that appeals to men as well as women.
“Frank is so used to being the best that he’s taken aback when he discovers there might be somebody better. It’s not just troubling for him because it’s a woman but because it’s a woman he has feelings for. That’s all something very new for him,” he said. “When he sings ‘My Defenses Are Down,’ it shows how conflicted he is on so many levels.”
Teschel said he can easily relate to Frank because they share the same love of show biz.
“When Frank gets dressed in his showman clothes and pulls on his Stetson, he’s ready to go. The bow (after the performance) is great, but the second I step into the light and feel the warmth, I know I’m in the right place,” said Teschel, who has been singing and dancing since he was 5.
“I’ve tried 9-to-5 jobs, but they weren’t right for me despite the security,” he said. “It’s the excitement of the stage. I’m never nervous. I feel at home – just like Frank.”
Playing Dolly Tate, Frank’s fancy, frilly and funny assistant, is Stephanie Dennis. Natalie Swanner is Dolly’s younger sister, Winnie, who is in love with the show’s knife thrower, Tommy Keeler, played by Nathan Hinojosa, despite her sister’s objection to Tommy’s partial Indian heritage.
Also in the cast are Tim Robu as Wild West show owner Buffalo Bill Cody; Curtis Proctor as Chief Sitting Bull, Annie’s mentor and protector; Luke Johnson as rival show owner Pawnee Bill; and Austin Stang as Mac.
Music director is Charlotte Evans, and choreographer is GiGi Gans. Set design is by Gregory Crane, with lights by Tyler Lessin and sound by Josh Gordon and David Muehl. Costumes and props are by Music Theatre of Wichita.