BWW Review: Lack of Chemistry Causes ANNIE GET YOUR GUN to Miss the Target
The Aerospace Players (TAP) was formed in 1988 with the intent of providing an outlet for Aerospace Corporation and Los Angeles Air Force Base employees, their friends and families to participate in the performing arts. Most often, TAP performs one major Broadway musical every summer, with an all-volunteer cast and crew as well as the full orchestra conducted by Joseph Derthick that performs live at every performance. It's a huge undertaking.
This year. TAP is staging two musicals: Annie Get Your Gun as their winter production prior to their summer 2016 production of Fiddler on the Roof. Now onstage through February 6, Annie Get Your Gun tells the story of sharpshooter Annie Oakley (Julie Hinton, a natural comedienne who perfectly inhabits the role) and her romance with Frank Butler (Stephen Cathers). Unfortunately, Cathers has no chemistry whatsoever with Hinton, and try as she might to entice him, their romance seems implausible and totally unbelievable. Without two solid leads who really appear to be in love, or at least attracted to each other physically, the musical lacks the spark needed to fuel the plot. Cathers sings incredibly well, but he lacks the acting chops to pull off this sexy, swarthy lady killer who reluctantly meets his match during a shooting competition.
What saves this production is Irving Berlin's wonderful musical score that enhances the story's themes with hits including "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Anything You Can Do." When Ms. Hinton takes over the stage during her featured musical numbers "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" and "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun," she sets the stage on fire. The four young actors who play her younger siblings (Anderson Pillar, Adeline Hall, Fiona Okida and Madeline Weissenberg) are a joy to watch whenever they add their youthful energy and sharp stage presence to their production numbers.
TAP's Annie Get Your Gun features Kevin Wheaton as Buffalo Bill; Jason Stout as Charlie Davenport, Lawrence A. Moreno as Sitting Bull, and Jillian Valdez as Dolly Tate. Moreno is especially likeable as the intelligent Indian leader relegated to performing with Oakley, especially with his ability to show the humor in his observations of human foibles in love. Valdez shines as the over-the-top assistant to Frank Butler, using her abundant physical attributes to great effect. Ryan Raleigh adds zest as Pawnee Bill, rival showman to Wheaton's Buffalo Bill, especially during the final moments when the two men decide to merge their shows in order to survive. This merger finally brings Oakley and Butler back together, but the missing passion between Hinton and Cathers spoils the fun at the end.
Director Angela Ashe notes that throughout the Annie Get Your Gun book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields, many characters make racial and chauvinistic references toward Native Americans and women that would be considered offensive today. Choosing to honor the original intent of the musical's themes and the time in which it was written, Ms. Ashe kept in the offending remarks but never over-emphasized them, allowing them to pass over quickly as a way to reflect the attitude of the characters expressing opinions commonplace at the time of such Wild West shows. And of course this being an all-volunteer production with 28 cast members, Ms. Ashe has done her best to showcase the incredible score through many of the actors seemed to forget much of her choreography during the big production numbers. And of course, it would have enhanced the show greatly if the two leads really had the ability to create the chemistry so desperately needed between them.
Kudos to costume designer Diana Mann and her team for creating multiple Western wear pieces for every cast member, including the flashy shirts worn by Frank Butler, the full-body Native American headdress worn by Sitting Bull, and the lovely high society wear worm by the entire ensemble. I especially loved Oakley's sexy crimson gown adorned with her many sparkly medals which caught and reflected the light, enhancing Ms. Hinton's star-quality performance.
Annie Get Your Gun continues this weekend on February 5th and 6th at 8pm at the James Armstrong Theatre, located at 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance, CA 90503. Ticket prices: Adults $24, Seniors & Students $22, group of 10 or more $20. Box Office 310-781-7171. Visit TAP online at www.aeaclubs.org/theater or www.torranceca.gov/events or on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/TAPAnnieFacebook.
Photos by Angela Ashe and Lisa Stout
Angela Asch, Jason Stoutâ€‹, Julie Hinton, Stephen Cathersâ€‹. Kevin Wheaton
Annie and his siblings celebrate "Doin' What Comes Natur'ally."
"Anything You Can Do"
Frank and Annie compete to see who is the best sharpshooter.
Stephen Cathers, Jillian Valdez, Kevin Wheaton, Jason Stout