ANNIE GET YOUR GUN
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st July 2014
Irving Berlin’s classic musical is given a fresh makeover in this touring production.
Herbert and Dorothy Fields’s script still crackles with funny one-liners but new additions by Peter Stone give the show a slightly Brechtian feel, with the theatricality of the production laid bare, and scenes announced as they are set up. It’s like a palatable version of Chicago – here the characters have at least one redeeming quality if they’re not out-and-out lovable. The score contains standards everyone knows: There’s No Business Like Show Business is a gem of an opening number and recurring motif, and Anything You Can Do is a comic highlight.
Set in Buffalo Bill’s Big Top, the story of the rivalry and romance between Frank Butler (Jason Donovan) and Annie Oakley (Emma Williams) is played out, with only crates and cases for scenery, and the band and other cast members on stage throughout. Billowing red and white striped cloths evoke the circus tent, but rather than alienating us, these devices draw us in.
Norman Pace looks hale and hearty as Southern gentleman and showman Buffalo Bill Cody – in his white suit and goatee you expect him to crack out the fried chicken at any second. Jason Donovan looks great in Butler’s clothes (he should wear them all the while – when he’s not in his Joseph loincloth, of course!) and his characterisation works well. I feel he lacks the vocal power at times to match Butler’s blowhard posturing – although I did hear his mic crackle a couple of times, so perhaps that explains it.
Lorna Want and Yiftach Mizrahi are charming as young lovers in a mixed-race subplot, and as Want’s elder showgirl sister Dolly, Kara Lane struts around splendidly as the show’s nominal villain. There is strong character support from Dermot Canavan as hotel owner Wilson and Cody’ rival showman Pawnee Bill, while Ed Currie towers over the proceedings as a dignified but funny Sitting Bull.
The show belongs, though, to Emma Williams’s Annie Oakley. From her entrance as a scruffy, cross-dressing trapper/hunter to her transformation into a star through the magic and machinations of show business, she is superb. Her characterisation is broad but it works beautifully and her singing voice is by far the best in the company. You admire the performer and care for the character in this vibrant and engaging treatment of a heart-warming, old school musical that hits every target.