Big, brash Broadway-style musicals aren’t up everyone’s alley — when people gnash their teeth about musicals, they’re usually railing against gaudy showtunes. What’s interesting is that this kind of passionate, misinformed point-of-view often creates an equally fanatical set of theater-goers on the other end of the spectrum — the kind who adore big dance numbers, catchy (in some cases, too catchy) songs and crowd-pleasing entertainment. Because of this latter crowd of fervent musical theater fans, it makes total sense that the Asheville Community Theatre chose to open its 2013-14 mainstage season with Annie Get Your Gun. The show is beloved, the songs are well-known and the one thing a musical like this needs — overwhelming enthusiasm — is something the ACT’s stable of actors has in abundance.
I had never seen Annie Get Your Gun, mostly because I fall into that category of people who usually shy away from musicals heavy on showtunes, but I quickly found out that I’m not wholly unfamiliar with the show. Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do” have fully entrenched themselves into pop culture’s infrastructure, a testament both to Berlin and the popularity of the show.
Directed by longtime theater collaborator Jerry Crouch, the play is a fairly straightforward interpretation of the musical’s 1999 revival. Community theater is always going to struggle with a lack of budget, but putting on a musical of this size with as little as possible — and with the help of a dedicated cast of volunteers — is perhaps what’s most interesting about this production.
Annie Get Your Gun uses the framing device of a play-within-a-play. It opens with Buffalo Bill (Richard Blue) introducing the characters and the story’s basic outline before the curtains open for “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” This is a pretty magnificent moment, with approximately 40 cast members on stage, and the musical’s Tommy Keeler (Alan Malpass) spinning from a rope that descends from the ceiling. The only problem — if you can call it that — is that none of the subsequent numbers are quite as huge as the opener. This is a minor quibble (let me tell you how many horror movies have the same issue) and is probably a case of practicality since so much here is dependent on ingenuity.
For those that don’t know, the plot is a simple love story between the legendary Annie Oakley (Jacqueline Collison-Canney) and hotshot showman Frank Butler (Brandon Kersey). My biggest issues with the musical aren’t with the production, but rather some of the content. The ‘99 revival cut out a couple of numbers which were deemed a bit insensitive, and vestiges of this mindset remain. The idea, for instance, of a seemingly independent Annie who can’t function without a man comes across as antiquated. Of course, this is a 67-year-old musical, so its mindset is bound to come across as dated, but it never hurts to learn from and reflect on older works through the lens of their time. But really, most people are here for the music, and ACT has assembled a cast who are up to the task.
Collison-Canney — who plays Annie with the right amount sass — gets the chance to flex her singing range, while everyone’s comedic timing is spot on (especially Pat LaCorte as the wisecracking Charlie Davenport). The cast also gives the script room to breath.
As a whole, Crouch and his cast give exactly what you expect (and occasionally a little bit more) for Annie Get Your Gun, which, for such a beloved crowd-pleaser, is more than enough.
For more information or tickets, visit ACT’s website.
Justin Souther is an Asheville-based movie critic and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.