Marriott's Lincolnshire Theatre:
Annie Get Your Gun
Through February 15, 2004
There are only a few days left in which to see Marriott's Lincolnshire's joyous production of Annie Get Your Gun, but I urge you to do so. While it might be a bit of a hike for some of you to head up to the far northern suburbs, it will certainly be well worth your time and effort.
Artistic Director Rick Boynton and director/choreographer Marc Robin, first of all, must be commended for assembling a wonderfully skilled and likable cast of actors, singers and dancers in order to bring this classic of the American Musical Theatre to the Marriott stage. While a few of the performers are familiar, many are (thankfully) newcomers to either this area or to the Marriott.
Most patrons will be pleasantly familiar with many of the charming Irving Berlin songs featured in this production. Wisely, because of time, political correctness and sensitivity, the new Peter Stone book, updated from the original 1946 production, eliminates a few of the less-memorable scenes and musical numbers. But what remains is a delicious palette of hummable tunes that have become a staple of the Broadway songbook; and Mr. Robin's expert direction of this talented company encourages them to sing and dance the dickens out of this score.
At the helm of this show-within-a-show is the beautiful Susie McMonagle. This little lady is absolute perfection as Annie Oakley! I can't imagine another Chicago area actor creating this role with more humor, verve, crisp, clear diction and sheer energy and vocal power. Miss McMonagle has displayed her capable talents in many other roles in the past, all of which have impressed this reviewer, and it's wonderful to hear her full, rich voice joyously wrapped around songs like, "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun," "I Got the Sun in the Morning" and the lovely, "I Got Lost in His Arms." Susie also shows a warm and wonderfully maternal side to her character, especially when singing "Moonshine Lullaby" to her three siblings, who have been left in her charge.
Not to be outdone by Miss McMonagle, Edward Watts, a handsome and charming newcomer to the Chicago area, holds his own as Annie's love interest and sharp-shooting competitor, Frank Butler. His beautiful high baritone voice shines in "My Defenses Are Down," as well as in his several duets with Annie, especially "The Girl That I Marry" and the delightful "Old Fashioned Wedding." Mr. Watts has a twinkle in his eye that endears him to one and all. These two actors are believable as they play off each other in both the book scenes and in the songs. This couple not only appear to truly care for each other, but they also seem to be having a lot of fun doing it.
Other standout actors in this musical include the delightfully droll Michael Weber and the talented Lauren Robinson (a combination Marcia Wallace and Carol Burnett) intwined in a love/hate relationship, full of sharp, scathing barbs and witty repartee. Both deliver their lines with skill and humor eliciting some of the evening's loudest laughter. Veteran character actor James Harms impresses with a likable authority as the show-within-a-show's narrator and the company's surrogate father figure, Buffalo Bill Cody. Roger Mueller's often deadpan delivery made his Chief Sitting Bull another favorite. Wisely downplaying the notion that he is portraying an authentic Native American in this piece, Mr. Mueller created an often hilarious, usually right-on-the-money character, full of knowing humor and wisdom. As the young lovers Winnie and Tommy, Mindy Dougherty and Matt Raftery sing and dance the house down! Marc Robin's choreography for the hilarious and winsome, "Who Do You Love, I Hope" features the most inventive use of kissing I've ever seen!
Mention must be made of Thomas M. Ryan's incredibly serviceable set. It literally wraps up the audience and brings them into the show, making the spectator literally a part of the cast. The effect is that one feels as if he is actually sitting in a tent during the late 1880's watching Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The lanterns and red and white striped canopies and bunting are quite festive and very period. Also, the talented Nancy Missimi has created yet another array of breathtaking costumes for the Marriott stage. They dazzle and delight (among them, the cowboys' and cowgirls' beautiful teal and orange outfits, against Annie's gorgeous red evening gown) while allowing the performers to dance, sing, leap, roll and do whatever they are have to do to tell this story. At some point in time, the Marriott ought to consider featuring an exhibit of Ms. Missimi's wonderful work, perhaps in one of the ballrooms downstairs. Over the years, she has contributed much to the success of Lincolnshire's professionally designed musicals. Over fifty years ago, critics were less than enthusiastic about the book for this musical comedy. And while it has been trimmed and edited to create a vehicle that does little more than offer a means by which a lot of wonderful, old-fashioned songs can be strung together, it still isn't much more than just that today. But so what?
With all of its charm and enthusiasm, Marriott's Annie Get Your Gun is a sure-shootin', bulls eye hittin', rousin' good time of a show that can still show audiences that "There's No Business Like Show Business."