BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Annie Get Your Gun
by Susan Davidson
There's no talent like Bernadette Peters. The pint-sized artist scores a bull's eye as Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, which opened at the Kennedy Centerís Opera House, and moves to Broadwayís Marquis Theatre next month. A consummate artist, Peters has never sounded better. And in spite of the use of a generic twang, her impeccably crisp delivery and idiosyncratic phrasing remain unperterbed. For those who know her work from Stephen Sondheim musicals only, Petersí light comic touch and timing, put to particularly good use in Annie, might come as something of a surprise. Not only does she make you laugh but she brings tears to the eyes, often at the same time, in one mixed-up emotional moment. Peters looks good too, whether she is dressed as the illiterate ruffian Annie once was or the elegantly-clad bankable star of Buffalo Billís Road Show that she became.
Petersís co-star in this expensively-produced revival is none other than the late Irving Berlin*, composer and lyricist of some of the best loved numbers in the history of American musical comedy. Whatís not to like? Beginning with "Thereís No Business Like Show Business," Annie Get Your Gun continues with one sure shot after another -- "Doiní What Comes Naturílly," "The Girl That He Marries," "You Canít Get A Man With A Gun," "My Defenses Are Down," "I Got the Sun In The Morning," "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," and on and on. Berlin delivers more beautiful songs in this show than most Broadway composers and lyricists deliver in a lifetime. Thatís the good news.
The rest of the production is a little disappointing. As Frank Butler, the object of Annieís affection, Tom Wopat gives a pleasant enough performance but his almost laconic demeanor belies the lyrics of his first big number, "Iím a Bad, Bad Man.""nbsp; Sexy, heís not. Especially in contrast to Bernadette Petersís Annie who is so highly charged one wonders why every man in the house (on stage and off) isnít sending her roses. Must be something to do with Washington in the Age of Impeachment.
Under Graciela Danieleís stolid direction, Annie Get Your Gun runs almost three hours. However, when Bernadette Peters is off stage, it feels longer. Some of the choreography, by Graciela Daniele and Jeff Calhoun, is at times inspired but those sequences are few and far between. Ingenuity, better blocking, and lots of tightening are called for.
Peter Stone has revised the original book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields, so that derogatory references to what we now call Native Americans have been excised. Annie and Frank still compete against one another in a sharp-shooting contest, fall in love, have a fight, separate for a while, and then reunite for a finale that intimates they walk off into the sunset to live happily (and scrappily) ever after. Sadly lost due to the languid pace is some of the humor. Jokes, such as Sitting Bullís line that he "never eats red meat, gets feet wet, or invests in show biz", land with a thud.
With the exception of one ludicrous chaps-cum-culotte outfit that makes the perfectly proportioned Bernadette Peters look like a deformed dwarf, William Ivey Long's costumes are pretty, appropriate, and sometimes humorous. They are of a piece with Scenic Designer Tony Walton's Big Top, travelling circus concept -- a set that is pleasing when it does not get in the way of the choreography (or maybe the problem is the other way around.)
But there's hope. The artistic team is still fine tuning. Considering Petersís already flawless performance, Berlinís splendidly sentimental songs, more than $7 million in advance ticket sales and a cast recording CD to be released at the end of January, there is reason to believe that by the time it gets to Broadway, this Annie has a very good chance of shooting for the moon.
*An historical footnote: Irving Berlin, perhaps the most prolific composer and lyricist in the history of American musical theatre was never named a Kennedy Center Honoree. To be considered for the award, all honorees are required to be present for the event given annually, each December, at the Kennedy Center Opera House, and later televised. Since the awards are given for lifetime achievement, recipients tend to be quite elderly and no provision is given for those who are too frail or too infirm, as was the case with Berlin, to make the trip. Pity.
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