Theatre Review: “Annie Get Your Gun” at Beef and Boards

Last Sunday evening I drove to the northwest side of Indianapolis to see “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre.  The music and lyrics for this 1948 Broadway musical were written by Irving Berlin.  The book was written by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. It was directed for Beef and Boards by Doug Stark. (Douglas E. Stark)

It is a beautiful, beautiful production and it piqued my interest in Annie Oakley.

What the Show Is About

The story is very loosely based on some people that actually lived in the Midwestern United States in the late 1800s.  There really was a Wild West Show and it really did star a never-misses riflewoman named Annie Oakley.  Her husband really was named Frank Butler and he was also a sharpshooter.  According to pbs.org and other sources, he became smitten with Annie on the day that she first beat him in a shooting contest.  He courted her until she finally agreed to marry him.  They performed together for a while, but he eventually stepped back and became her business and publicity manager.  “He occupied much less of the limelight than his celebrated wife, but Butler didn’t seem to mind; he understood that her success helped both of them.”   They were happily married for more than 50 years.

THAT is my idea of a love story.

In the musical, Frank is a guy that thinks he wants “a doll that I can carry.”  He loves Annie but he is threatened by Annie’s skill and fame.  Annie falls in love with him the minute she looks into his eyes for the first time.  To “get him,” she has to pretend to be less talented than he is. When she lets him beat her in a shooting contest, he asks her to marry him, and they supposedly live happily ever after.

I can’t help wondering, though, if the Annie in the musical will have to continue to give up parts of herself in order to maintain the illusion.  It wouldn’t be worth it to me.

Artistic Considerations

Fortunately, however, Frank and Annie’s musical marriage is, ultimately, not mine to worry about.  I am free to tell you about the many aspects of the show that I enjoyed.  These include the songs, the singing, the costumes, and the set.

I bet you will recognize many of the songs from this show, or at least “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”  What theatre lover hasn’t sung that catchy pep talk/anthem in a talent show or during a tech week at one time or another?  And it’s originally from THIS show!

I recognized “Anything You Can Do” and “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” too.

Other songs were completely new to me.  My new favorite song of all time, or at least a new addition to my top 100, is the inspirational “I Got the Sun in the Morning.”  I am going to learn all the words and sing this snappy song to myself when I want a reminder of how to have an attitude of gratitude.

The singing of all of the songs in this production is completely lovely, a real pleasure.  Especially satisfying are the songs sung by the two leads, Curt Dale Clark and Tiana Checchia.

Kurt Dale Clark is the charismatic Frank Butler, a self-proclaimed “Bad, Bad Man.”   I always swoon when Curt is on stage but in this show as Frank he is…well, let’s just say that I came home with some rich fodder for my fantasy life.  (I know I implied above that the musical Frank is a jerk, but I don’t have to marry, or even live with, the men I incorporate into my fantasy life.  This Frank looks GREAT in his suits and I’m a pushover in my fantasy life for a man that sings well.)

Tiana Checchia is completely likable as the irrepressible and rough-hewn Annie Oakley.  Annie takes good care of her three young siblings, she works hard in the Wild West show, she works hard at learning to read, and since Frank says he “needs” a woman that is all “pink and white,” she works hard on becoming that, too.  Along with showing us Annie’s strong, cheerful work ethic, Tiana gives Annie a naïvely joyful quality that is very appealing.

And did I mention how great she sounds?

When Annie and Frank sing about falling in love – “They Say It’s Wonderful” – the two actors perfectly capture and convey that wonderful feeling.

The rest of the ensemble is strong, too, across the board.  Annie’s three younger siblings, played by Brielle Boynton, Molly Oates, and Ellie Oates, are adorable.

The costumes – especially the men’s suits and the women’s long, bustled dresses and parasols – are a treat to look at.  They were designed by Jill Kelly.

The set, designed and lit by Michael Layton, includes a fun, thematic floor and some nifty smoke.

Who Did What

In addition to the two leads and the children, the show also stars:

J.R. Stuart as Charlie Davenport, the well-meaning manager of the Wild West show. 

Jeff Stockberger as the larger-than-life Buffalo Bill. 

Jack Milo as Sitting Bull, Annie’s adoptive father. 

Katie (aka Katherine) Proctor as Dolly Tate, Frank’s snippy assistant. 

The following graceful dancer-singers actually play multiple roles but they are listed in my press kit’s Fact Sheet as:

Steve Calzaretta as Pawnee Bill. 

Adam Shaff as Wild Horse. 

Jonathan Jensen as Mac. 

Bobbi Bates as Mrs. Iron Tail.

Erin Cohenour as Mrs. Yellowfoot.

Deb Wims as Silly Sister.

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Besides the director and the costumer, the crack-shot design team includes:

Doug King, choreographer.

Kristy Templet, musical director.

Daniel Hesselbrock, sound designer.

Bill Mollencupp, technical director.

Ed Stockman, stage manager.

Eddie Curry and Jeff Stockberger, assistant stage managers.

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In the orchestra up in its loft:

Conductor Kristy Templet is on keyboard.

Terry Woods is on keyboard, too.

Neil Broeker is on woodwinds.

Tim Kelly (any relation to the costumer designer, I wonder?) is on percussion.

David Coleson is on trumpet.

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As always, admission includes Chef Odell Ward’s comfort food dinner buffet.  My server this time was Billie.  Her attention to me was thoughtful but not smothering: just right.

Audience and Appeal Factors

The song in which Annie is adopted by Sitting Bull – “I’m an Indian Too” – made me uncomfortable because while it is semi-respectful of the fact that there is no such thing as a generic Indian tribe, it also has Annie making fun of individual Native names.  “Chief Dropping Pants?” Please.  However, Tiana makes it clear that Annie is touched and proud AND nervous to have been invited to the ceremony, so maybe those lyrics are supposed to convey those mixed emotions in the same way that anyone can make a not-funny joke when they’re nervous.

Also, there are several times in this show when guns are pointed into the audience.  When my friend Dave taught me how to shoot a pistol years ago, his first rule of gun safety was to never, ever point a gun at someone unless you intend to kill them, even if you think the gun isn’t loaded.  So, every time a gun was “fired” into the audience in this show it pulled me out of the story.  I think the shots are just recordings, actually, not even blanks, but the guns were realistic enough overall to make me nervous.

Anyway, I mention these two things here in the suggested audience portion of the review just as something else to consider when you’re thinking about which friends to invite along.

In general, I would say that this is a completely family friendly show.  I wouldn’t bring preschoolers to it but I could see bringing a family with school-aged children and older.  Although I don’t want my goddaughter growing up to think she has to cut herself down in order to “get” a man to marry her, I would love for her to know about Annie Oakley’s skill, determination, optimism, and loyalty.  This show introduces all of that.

This show will also appeal to people that love visually and aurally beautiful musical theatre.

Box Office

“Annie Get Your Gun” continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through May 8, 2011.  Show times include some weekday evenings and matinees.  For more information please visit www.beefandboards.com.  To purchase tickets, please call the Box Office at 317-872-9664.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

P.S. – Follow me (@IndyTheatre) and/or the topic #indystage on Twitter.com.  I never tweet during a show (and I beg you not to take your phone out during a show either, for any reason, because light is as distracting as noise!) but I often tweet first impressions during intermission or immediately after a show.

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