Annie Get Your Gun

Zilker Theatre Productions' staging of 'Annie Get Your Gun' is delightful enough to make you feel there are no show people like show people

Arts Review

Annie Get Your Gun

Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theatre, through Aug. 13

Running Time: 2 hrs, 30 min

There's no people like show people for tooting their own horns. They love to talk about themselves and what they do: how hard it is to put on a play, how they pull together when the odds are against them, how wonderful they are when they prevail. They love it so much, in fact, that they make dramas of the drama they live. Now, by all rights, the sheer egotism in that act should make these plays about theatre insufferable. And yet, when they're done by the right people, with self-mockery to balance the self-aggrandizement, with a sense of wonder about and genuine affection for the art of theatre, well, danged if they ain't among the most entertaining diversions you can see on a stage.

The point is proven again with Zilker Theatre Productions' staging of Annie Get Your Gun. When composer Irving Berlin and book writers Herbert and Dorothy Fields turned the spotlight on their ilk, they did so with a keen understanding of all the elements that make theatre special – this is, after all, the musical that gave us that rousing celebration of all things theatrical, "There's No Business Like Show Business" – but also with a wry appreciation of the ego and flimflammery involved in an art form that's all about convincing people what they're seeing is something other than it is. Their tale of Annie Oakley's rivalry and romance with fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler has the pair butting egos like two mountain rams in a whirl of give-the-people-what-they-want showmanship.

Director Scott Schroeder follows the lead of the recent Broadway revival, which had Peter Stone prune much of the sexism and racism from the 1946 original and play the story as one more act in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. That makes a certain amount of sense, given that the musical love story is every bit the artfully crafted piece of crowd-pleasing hokum that Cody's fabricated West was. As Schroeder proved two years ago with Crazy for You (another show about show biz), he has a feel for that kind of hokum and what makes it work. He and choreographer Judy Thompson-Price (who also worked on Crazy for You) infuse the proceedings with the same exuberant spirit of that earlier collaboration, the unrestrained joy in being on a stage and playing to the crowd, and if this production doesn't always reach the same giddy heights as that show, it's still immensely enjoyable. While in some numbers the dancers haven't quite mastered all the moves, in others they're so crisp and Thompson-Price's steps so lively that they make the scene.

Of course, in this show Annie is the big target, one that's been hit by some mighty memorable performers before this. Laura Powell takes dead aim at the part and plugs it right through the heart as effortlessly as Annie outshoots Frank. Now, she's no big, brassy Annie in the Merman mold. Powell is closer in size to the real Little Missie (as Buffalo Bill dubbed the 5-foot-tall Oakley), and her portrayal seems drawn from her small stature; her Annie's a scrapper, the kind of kid who learns to fight more fiercely than anyone else to make up for her size. The feistiness and tenacity in her is deeply rooted and gets you rooting for her. But she's more than spunk. Powell exhibits a winning grin and a powerful longing for her Frank – resolute and subtly, slyly full of himself in Dan Sullivan's portrayal – and Annie's love ballads pour out of her with an aching grace.

Near the end of the second act, Powell and Sullivan lock horns one last time in that grand ode to one-upmanship, "Anything You Can Do." You can see the two performers get that feeling that they're in the home stretch, and they open up, voices soaring, comic takes zinging, chemistry connecting. Watching and listening to them, you're lifted up and delighted and at the same time somewhat amazed at how they do that, those folks who work together on a stage to make that happen. It makes you figure there really are no people like show people. Let's go on with the show.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Zilker Theatre Productions, Irving Berlin, Herbert Fields, Dorothy Fields, Peter Stone, Scott Schroeder, Judy Thompson-Price, Michael McKelvey, Laura Powell, Dan Sullivan, Crazy for You

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