July 24, 2008

‘Annie Get Your Gun’ Hits Show Business Bull’s-Eye

By Alice T. Carter, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 24--Now this is more like it.

After producing a couple of shows that fell wide of the mark this season, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's "Annie Get Your Gun" is right on target.

The show that opened Tuesday night at the Benedum Theater is a solidly produced, confidently performed celebration of show business that delights on several levels.

First and foremost are the expected pleasures -- a score of recognizable, hummable Irving Berlin classics and an updated tale of love overcoming ego in a show business setting.

Even if you're not a music theater fan, you probably know the tunes and at least some of the lyrics to its better-known songs -- "There's No Business Like Show Business,""You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" and "Anything You Can Do" -- all of which are performed with gusto and meaning.

Older fans of the golden age of musicals and immortal classics know its romantic songs such as "I Got Lost in Your Arms,""The Girl That I Marry" and "They Say It's Wonderful."

Ethel Merman immortalized this 62-year-old musical about the professional rivalry between sharpshooter Annie Oakley and marksman Frank Butler that evolves when both become performers for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Much contemporary relevance remains in this tale of a man and a woman who are drawn to each other but have to temper their egos and ambition if they want to make a success of their relationship.

Herbert and Dorothy Fields packed an abundance of humor into the original 1946 show. Peter Stone's revised and updated version moved it into the 21st century, retaining its basic heart and soul and removing some of the outdated material.

Playing off of those solid assets, this production hits the mark by casting veteran "Days of Our Lives" performer Matt Ashford as the likable but self-impressed Frank Butler, who struggles with the conflict between his attraction to Annie and his irritation at her growing celebrity and ability to out-perform him with a rifle. He makes his character's journey central and personal.

His strong, warm voice pays homage to showbiz in his opening "There's No Business Like Show Business" solo.

As the rough-hewn, over-achieving Annie, Jenn Colella displays a delicious balance of guts and vulnerability, unwilling to mask her talents yet thoroughly aware that "You Can't Get A Man With a Gun."

She's a bit strident in her efforts to demonstrate her character's backwoods beginnings and lack of sophistication, but that tempers as the evening proceeds. She's also most appealing when she drops those efforts and holds forth with lesser-known songs such as "Moonshine Lullaby" and "I Got the Sun in the Morning."

The two display a nice chemistry and compatible humor on "An Old Fashioned Wedding" and "Anything You Can Do."

Actors in secondary roles add to the show's enjoyment, most notably Paula Leggett Chase's villainess Dolly Tate, Joel Blum's Charlie Davenport and Ben Nadler, an 11-year-old Upper St. Clair resident who plays Annie's youngest sibling, Little Jake.

The show's biggest disappointment is the lackluster costumes provided by FCLO Music Theater Costumes.

Choreographer John Macinnis keeps the youthful, accomplished ensemble busy with some big, energetic dance numbers. Director Charles Repole ensures the pacing never flags and sends you home convinced that there is indeed no business like show business.


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