Crown uptown's Annie Get Your Gun partly loaded.
The story is loosely based on the life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her romance with Frank Butler. Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert wrote the book for the show and had Irving Berlin create the music and lyrics after the duo's first choice of composer passed away. Even with this rut in the trail, the musical successfully opened on Broadway in 1946. Ethel Merman starred as Annie and did "what comes natur'lly" for over 1,100 performances
AGYG went through a number of revivals, became a movie, toured Europe, and then got resoled in 1999. Post-feminist branding gave us an independent, intelligent Annie Oakley and reduced Frank Butler's strutting. Annie evolved from a woman who intentionally lost a shooting match to Frank in order to "get her man" to one who machinated a tie.
The Native American characters also got a dusting off, becoming more active participants. Sitting Bull bankrolls part of the "Wild West Show" with oil money and a secondary romance is added between a young lady and a young man who is part Native American. This updated version was the one presented at the Crown Uptown.
While some may not be familiar with the musical as a whole, many of the songs cantered their way into popular culture, such as There's No Business Like Show Business, Doin' What Comes Natur'lly (risque for '46 when it premiered!), and Anything You Can Do.
Another number that was sensitively done, albeit rather tongue-in-cheek, by Annie, the kids, and the ensemble was Moonshine Lullaby. Although it sounds like a lullaby, the lyrics say something else: "Behind the hill, there's a busy little still ..."
In the Crown's rendering of AGYG, Erin Sherry played an Annie Oakley who progresses from "country-bumpkin" into a smart young lady. Sherry worked this trajectory smoothly, against a short timeframe and a simple storyline. It was difficult to graft in Annie's widening horizons without making the entire musical all_about_that. (Oh, and she DID NOT attempt to reprise Ethel Merman, thank you!)
Vincent Teschel offered a suitable amount of rangy swagger as Frank Butler. He strutted like a man used to winning. As he sang, he posed with his thumbs looped into his belt at either side, seemingly to bracket his big ... buckle. However, Teschel managed to keep his Butler just this side of too full-of-himselfness so we could still enjoy his oft-boyish charm.
Overall, the players did a good job, although there was one actor that seemed to be either miscast, or was encouraged to depict his character a little too subtly, and that was Curtis Proctor-Artz as Chief Sitting Bull. In the modern version of AGYG, Sitting Bull is a pivotal character helping move the show along.
It seemed like Proctor-Artz was bursting to do more with the character. His Sitting Bull was reduced to a staid presence who occasionally uttered a few halting lines. Having seen Proctor-Artz in a number of other shows, I suspect this had more to do with direction than his skill.
The simplicity of Gregory Crane's set for AGYG struck a balance between creating the appropriate atmosphere and enabling quick, smooth scene changes with the drop of a scrim or the clip of a banner to a rope. As the players moved through the set, they seemed to look comfortable with the space. It was easy to see why this man has won awards for set design.
However, even after some praises, the Crown Uptown performance of AGYG was still missing something. The performances were solid and the songs were good, there were only a few missed cues and a few other glitches that could have been because the show still needed to "settle in," (I saw it opening week), but there was no spark: everything was primed but nothing detonated.
Next up for the Crown is Little Women running May 10-June 8. For tickets, call 316-612-7696. For more information on the rest of the Crown Uptown's 2013 season, visit www.crownuptown.com.