Arts & Culture

March 31, 2013

Review: Stars make ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ fresh again

When you have two leads as personable and engaging as Erin Sherry and Vincent Teschel, then even an oh-so-familiar show like “Annie Get Your Gun” suddenly seems fresh and surprising again.

When you have two leads as personable and engaging as Erin Sherry and Vincent Teschel, then even an oh-so-familiar show like “Annie Get Your Gun” suddenly seems fresh and surprising again.

In this sparkling revival of Irving Berlin’s 1946 classic at Crown Uptown Theatre, Sherry is crackling with down-home mischief and delight as plain-spoken backwoods sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

And the lanky, 6-foot-5 Teschel is dapper, charming and delightfully full of himself as the Wild West show champion Frank Butler, who suddenly finds himself in Annie’s crosshairs, professionally and romantically.

Directed by Matthew Rumsey, this version is based on a 1999 rewrite that eliminated some American Indian references that were insensitive. It also rejiggered the ending to skewer sexism from the show’s 1940s origins in a clever way without getting on a strident soapbox.

More importantly, this version restructures the show into a play-within-a-play that adds a layer of sophisticated storytelling, as if the Annie/Frank romance were the featured act of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Characters move set pieces themselves, and the show manager speaks directly to us to introduce various scenes of Annie and Frank’s rivalry and courtship (a la “Chicago”).

Best of all, the revision moves the indomitable “There’s No Business Like Show Business” right up front as the opening number, building from a quiet wisp of a ballad to a rousing anthem that kicks the show into high gear at the outset. By the familiar coda, “Let’s go on with the show,” the audience couldn’t be more primed. And what follows lives up to the promise.

Sherry, a Texas native making her Crown debut, shows the easy versatility of her voice, from her twangy, comically countrified “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” to her clear, liltingly lovely soprano for “Moonshine Lullaby” and “I Got Lost in His Arms.” Sherry, who has regionally done Cassie in “A Chorus Line” and Paulette in “Legally Blonde,” is a constant joy here, creating an Annie who is unapologetically comfortable in her own skin but eager to explore new things.

Florida native Teschel, also making his Crown debut after regional lead roles in such shows as “Will Rogers Follies” and “Oklahoma!,” remains true to Frank’s considerable, swaggering ego as an unbeaten champion. But he makes sure that we catch glimpses of the vulnerable romantic soul underneath his image as the “big, swollen-headed stiff” that Annie first calls him. Frank could easily be an arrogant, cartoonish chauvinist, but Teschel never lets him lose his likability.

Teschel also has an easy-going voice that preserves its macho edge while wrapping its way warmly around romantic ballads like “The Girl That I Marry” and “I Got Lost in Her Arms,” and in a duet with Sherry for “They Say That Falling in Love Is Wonderful.”

Sherry and Teschel have a comic as well as romantic chemistry that makes Annie and Frank a fun couple to root for. Their “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” is a hilarious and tuneful highlight.

Around them are feisty Stephanie Dennis as Frank’s snobby assistant, Dolly Tate; Tim Robu as glad-handing showman Buffalo Bill Cody; Curtis Proctor as a surprisingly animated rather than stoic Chief Sitting Bull; and Joe Boover as Buffalo Bill’s cagey show manager, Charlie Davenport, who is also the audience liaison to what happens on stage.

In this version, there also is a secondary romance between Natalie Swanner as Winnie Tate, Dolly’s impetuous younger sister, and Nathan Hinojosa as Tommy Keeler, Winnie’s part-Native American boyfriend. Their cross-racial pairing is designed for some dramatic controversy, but it’s pretty much defanged by their frothy (and not very memorable although nicely performed) songs, “I’ll Share It All With You” and “Who Do You Love, I Hope.”

The orchestra conducted by New York guest music director Charlotte Evans sounded terrific from the very first moments of the overture. Choreography by Gigi Gans created some imaginative surprises, including cowpokes essentially scoot-dancing on their bottoms across the stage.

The sprawling western set by Gregory R. Crane is defined by fence sections, boardwalks and short runs of stairs with a large turntable in the center, and it conjures up everything from a circus tent to a train car to a hotel ballroom with huge chandeliers. The beautiful costumes, including matching white fringed buckskins for Annie and Frank, came from Music Theatre of Wichita.

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