by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle™
When all the creative ingredients of a musical are carefully measured, combined and lovingly stirred, the most delicious result is what Goodspeed Musicals is currently serving up with Irving Berlin’s delectable “Annie Get Your Gun.”
By popular demand, this first-rate production has been extended through July 3rd. It has been refocused from a star vehicle into a fiery and amusing love story devoid of sticky sentimentality – a tribute to Rob Ruggiero, one of he best story-telling directors in the theater. The acting, singing, production values, and well-paced action are so natural and easy that Rob’s guiding hand is not in evidence, yet it takes a brilliant director to successfully pull off this seamless invisibility from start to finish with such polish.
Rob’s production team, consisting of – among many other talented creative people – scenic designer Michael Schweikardt, costume designer Alejo Vietti, lighting designer John Lasiter, and musical director Michael O’Flaherty, wins our top-honors for its highly effective collaboration to achieve the director’s vision. It’s a milestone in this classic musical comedy’s long history as one of America’s most enduring shows: an explosive and witty re-telling of the competitive relationship and love story of the real-life Annie Oakley and Frank Butler with a tenderness that is both believable and entertaining.
The show-within-a-show, narrated by both Buffalo Bill Cody (David McDonald) and Charlie Davenport (James Beaman), begins with Buffalo Bill and the ensemble explaining that “There’s No Business Like Show Business” which sets the upbeat mood for the rest of the story. People near us were actually singing along with the ensemble!
From the moment that Jenn Gambatese, dressed in her buckskins as Annie Oakley, sings the first note of “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” the stage becomes electrified with her show-stopping voice, star charisma, and ‘natur’l’ acting abilities.
When Annie meets handsome Frank Butler, played with a confident, easy-going swagger by Kevin Earley, he tells her in song that “The Girl That I Marry” will not have a dirty face or tote a rifle.
Their two well-trained Broadway voices marry in this number, and set up an exciting anticipation of hearing them sing the duets “They Say It’s Wonderful” and the humorous “Old Fashioned Wedding.”
Annie realizes that she’s at a disadvantage as a sharpshooter when she sings “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” which gives Jenn the opportunity to not only let her voice shine but to show her considerable comedic talent. Her big sound becomes light and softens in “Moonshine Lullaby” and later underscores her affection for Frank in the dreamy “I Got Lost In His Arms.”
When Frank finally confesses to the cowboys that he’s probably in love with Annie in “My Defenses Are Down” it gives Kevin Earley the chance to fully utilize his sensational baritone, and the ensemble of cowboys an opportunity to strut their stuff, too.
Andrew Cao and Chelsea Morgan Stock, as love-struck Tommy and Winnie, dance and sing their way enthusiastically and energetically in two numbers “I’ll Share It All With You,” and “Who Do You Love, I Hope.” Noah Racey’s masterful choreography has them running atop a ‘moving’ Pullman car in a dare-devil routine.
In this Goodspeed revival, the orchestrations by Dan DeLange compliment the sparkle of Berlin’s lyrics that keep the simple narrative lively while exploring the changing personalities and relationship of Annie and Frank in a witty and delightful way.
Jay Hilton, who created the sound for this production, hits the bull’s-eye with his audible illusion of the sharpshooting Annie and Frank during the fierce competitive shooting matches, and when Annie tries to impress Frank with a new “trick” – gun that is.
Here’s a show that’s a perfect antidote for stressful times. It’s melodious, the songs are recognizable, the story is well-told, the cast is marvelously talented, and the entire production is such fun!
It has been a hit for decades with unforgettable star performances by Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Ginger Rogers and Reba McIntire, among others. But for anyone quick enough on the trigger to get a ticket for Goodspeed Musical’s version of “Annie Get Your Gun” it will be evident that the current Annie -Jenn Gambatese – is so right on target it should propel her to new heights in the theater.
“Annie” is playing through July 3. For tickets and upcoming shows go to www.goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668. Goodspeed Musicals is also on Facebook and Twitter because there’s no business like show business so spread the word all over the place.
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