Since it first opened on Broadway in 1946, the Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun has gone through so many revisions that it’s now difficult to say exactly what the definitive version is. Over the years, songs have been removed then added again, sub plots have either changed or removed altogether and even characters have altered relationships with other characters.
In the 1999 Broadway revival that gave Bernadette Peters the leading role, everything was altered and revamped once again. Instead of playing the musical straight, the production became a show-within-a-show setting the story of Annie Oakley under Colonel Buffalo Bill’s big top traveling circus and acted out by the circus performers, each taking on a character needed to tell Annie’s story. Gone were a couple of politically incorrect songs considered to be insensitive to Native Americans replaced with moments that were cut from the show during the sixties, including some grand dance numbers, the love affair sub-plot between Winnie and Tommy and the changing of relationships between Winnie and Dolly. Winnie was previously Dolly’s daughter, but in the 1999 revival, Winnie became Dolly’s younger sister; and it’s this 1999 grand slam, colorful big top production that Spotlight Youth Theatre is presenting on its home stage in Peoria.
Even though many have considered the song There’s No Business Like Show Business to be from the Marylin Monroe movie, it actually originated from Annie Get Your Gun, and in this revival it’s the song that opens the show. Michael Schulz, last seen as Riff in Valley Youth Theatre’s West Side Story at Herberger Center downtown, kicks off the proceedings as a circus performer who will go on to play the part of Frank Butler. It’s Michael that introduces the show, opening with There’s No Business Like Show Business, and it plays to Michael’s strength. The young actor possesses one of the best voices in the production and it’s as Frank Butler singing these wonderful Irving Berlin songs that Michael is given the opportunity throughout to show audiences what he can do.
Briefly, for those unfamiliar, Annie Get Your Gun is a fictionalized account of some real life characters who joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling show. Annie became a famous showbiz sharpshooter and developed a romance with the show’s other sharpshooter, Frank Butler. As the musical version of Annie (Carly Makani Copp) proudly states with glee at her own abilities, “I can shoot anything standin’ on my head singing Swanee River.” What follows is the romantic rivalry between Annie and Frank supported by a secondary love story with problems of its own between young Winnie (a hugely likable Ali Whitwell) and part Native American, Tommy (a perfectly cast Jacob Herrera).
As presented in the intimate Spotlight theatre, this production of Annie Get Your Gun is a rousing, tuneful musical, bursting with the kind of energy that gives the ensemble players plenty of opportunity to shine. As is often the case with large, Broadway shows, Annie boats a cast too numerous to name, but as before, director Kenny Grossman has found plenty of solid young actors to take the principle leads. Lyssa Horney as Winnie’s conniving older sister Dolly gives a powerhouse performance echoing the grand tradition of Ethel Merman; she doesn’t need a mic to be heard. Taylor Bader injects energy and a certain mustache twirling relish as Charlie Davenport, the manager of the Wild West show, while David Samson’s Buffalo Bill Cody draws attention by default; he’s tall and imposing, just as Buffalo Bill should be, and due to his elaborate costume and wig takes center stage every time he enters.
But it’s the central role of Annie Oakley where a production of Annie Get Your Gun either works or fails, and Spotlight has struck a theatrical coup with the casting of Carly Makani Copp. Carly, last scene as a support in Arizona Broadway Theatre’s recent large scale production of Peter Pan, is back on the Spotlight stage, only this time she’s awarded the opportunity to showcase her talents as a singer, dancer and actor in scene after scene, and Carly doesn’t disappoint: She runs with it. She doesn’t just perform songs, she sells them, never breaking character, and it’s here as Annie where Carly displays the kind of abilities required of someone who with time, hard work and the right amount of luck may well join the ranks of previous valley talents who went on to become future valley professionals.
Occasionally, lines are lost due to some performers delivering their dialog in a natural, conversational manner rather than projecting to the back row – they should all take lessons from Lyssa Horney on how to do it right – plus a couple of performers appeared to lag behind when singing to the recorded music, perhaps missing a cue here and there and having to play catch-up, but generally, the Sunday matinee performance that this reviewer attended ran smoothly and without any noticeable hiccups. Madison Macdonald’s stirring choreography was sharply performed by a proficient cast, and who can’t warm to those wonderful Irving Berlin songs when sung by such capable voices?
For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the Spotlight Youth Theatre website.