After one of the most lackluster Broadway seasons in recent memory, the arrival of the Goodspeed Opera House’s first production of the year, the Irving Berlin musical, Annie Get Your Gun, is a welcoming tonic. Like comfy food, pleasing and enjoyable, you know what you’re getting with Berlin’s biggest Broadway hit—a rousing, tuneful score and top notch performances.
The story follows sure-shooting Annie Oakley, played by Jenn Gambatese, as she rises from country bumpkin to world class star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, as well as the sometimes tempestuous courtship with Buffalo Bill’s reigning sharpshooter, Frank Butler, played by Kevin Earley. As Oakley, Gambatese is a natural, exuding a winning charm as she morphs from unsophisticated country girl to the toast of New York society. Unlike Bernadette Peters, who starred in the 1999 Broadway revival, Gambatese is age appropriate for the part, which makes her portrayal more entertaining and believable for the audience. Peters was over 50 when she played the spry Oakley (and, yes, I know Ethel Merman was almost 60 in the 1966 Lincoln Center revival). Gambatese also has a beautiful voice that underscores the consummate Berlin score. And what a score it is—almost every number a gem -- “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “I Got Lost in His Arms,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and “Anything You Can Do,” are just a few of the memorable songs Berlin penned for the show.
In addition to Gambatese’s performance, Kevin Earley is up to the challenge as the pompous, blusterous marksman Frank Butler, who slowly falls in love with Oakley. He has boyish good looks, a swaggering charm and a powerful voice. Other notable performers include Rebecca Watson as the scheming Dolly Tate and James Beaman as Buffalo Bill’s right hand man, Charlie Davenport.
The show’s sub-plot, revolving around the romance of the juvenile leads, Winnie Tate, played by Chelsea Morgan Stock and Tommy Keeler, portrayed by Andrew Cao, diverts a little too much attention from the main thrust of the production, but does provide the best dance numbers of the show by choreographer, Noah Racey. Unlike many past Goodspeed musicals, Annie Get Your Gun doesn’t lend itself to many large-scale productions numbers. Think of this show as having more choreographed flourishes.
Director Rob Ruggiero guides the musical with sure-handed ease. He skillfully allows the two stars to wrangle and good-naturedly spar on stage without too much interference.
Annie Get Your Gun, a crowd-pleasing triumph, at the Goodspeed Opera House now through July 3rd.