BWW Reviews: ANNIE GET YOUR GUN IN CONCERT at Lyric Stage
"Anything You Can Do [I Can Do Better]." "There's No Business Like Show Business." "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun." The song list for Annie Get Your Gun reads like a Top 20 chart for Broadway standards. And Lyric Stage's concert version, running from January 22nd through January 25th, 2015, will have you humming and clapping along with this classic warhorse, as it soars with a dazzling 38-piece orchestra and a charming actress in the title role.
Annie Get Your Gun is the famous story of Annie Oakley, a sharp-shooting country girl who is such a natural with a gun that she ultimately becomes the star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Trouble arises, though, when competition sparks between her and the man she loves (but can outshoot), Frank Butler. With its girl-meets-boy, girls-loses-boy, girl-compromises-for-boy storyline, Annie Get Your Gun is a bit like Grease of The Golden Age.
This show, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and a book by brother/sister team Dorothy and Herbert Fields, has conquered Broadway three times over the last 70 years, for a grand total of 2,270 performances. The musical's first success on Broadway in 1946 starred a then-38-year-old Ethel Merman. Twenty years later, she led the show briefly back to the New York stage, but it survived only a couple of months. Then, in 1999, a new production succeeded on Broadway with a rewritten script by Peter Stone, who eliminated material considered insensitive to American Indians. This production starred Bernadette Peters in the title role, later replaced by Susan Lucci, and eventually by Reba McEntire.
Leading Lyric Stage's production is Daron Cockerell as Annie Oakley, whose performance is a true tour-de-force. Cockerell brings an infectious energy to the role, and is smart to not mimic the Broadway divas listed above. With her endless spunk and beautiful voice, Cockerell carries the show (and a gun) on her tiny shoulders with ease. Her performance, although unique in every way, has all the star quality and vocal power of a young Sutton Foster (a current Broadway diva who has not played Annie Oakley).
Opposite Cockerell is Actor's Equity member Michael Hewitt as Frank Butler. Although Hewitt occasionally struggles to match Cockerell's high-energy performance, he is a fine actor and a talented singer in his own right. Hewitt offers his deep, operatic voice to nine songs in the show, including "The Girl That I Marry," "They Say It's Wonderful" and "My Defenses Are Down."
Other notable performances include the stunning Janelle Lutz (a Mila Kunis look-alike), as Dolly Tate, who truly deserves more stage time; Andy Baldwin, whose over-the-top reactions make Charlie Davenport a scene-stealer; all 38 orchestra members, led by conductor/musical director Jay Dias, who deserved the standing ovation they received during the finale; and Bill Eickenloff, the sound designer for the show, who deserves his own ovation for ensuring that every single instrument was well-heard, without ever compromising the volume of the actors.
Director Ann Nieman makes the most of the "in concert" version of the show, despite some notable inconsistencies. For instance, at the start of the show, the cast humorously offers a wink to the audience about the concert format of the show - a theme that disappears after the first few minutes. The minimal use of costumes and scenery is effective, using enough props and accessories to support the text. However, in one instance, a trio of talented singing men offer their laps to a group of children, who uncomfortably fall asleep on them in place of scenery. On the other hand, the use of the beautiful orchestra onstage encourages the audience to closely watch the talented cast, who all give full-scale performances. Neiman, who also staged the musical numbers, makes creative use of the small space remaining downstage of the orchestra, enabling the large ensemble to shine whenever they are onstage.
It is important to note that, despite the success of the 1999 Broadway production, the script currently available for licensing is the dated 1966 version. Although Neimen is not responsible for some of the more racially-questionable content in this version of the show, the actor she has cast as "Chief Sitting Bull," is ethnically inappropriate, making some already dated references slightly more uncomfortable.
Still, if for no other reason (and there are plenty), Annie Get Your Gun is definitely worth seeing just to experience the Lyric Stage's incredible orchestra and Daron Cockerell's sensational performance as Annie Oakley. Get your tickets now by calling 972-252-2787 or online at www.lyricstage.org.