Playing through July 17, 2010

CENTERVILLE — Seeing a musical written about a historical character like Annie Oakley is a pleasure in itself.  Along with Carrie Nation, she’s one of my favorite women in American history.  And this here wingding of a tale is full of Wild Western hootenanny like shootin’ matches, dancing, and Indians saying and doing things that would have a modern-day playwright sued into the Middle Ages by the ACLU.

April Ann Lindgren stars in Roger Memorial Theatre’s (Tues, Thurs, Sat) cast as the backwoods sharpshooter Annie Oakley.  She never gave a fella the time of day, but when handsome professional gunslinger Frank Butler (B.J. Whimpey) comes to town, she gets a hankerin’ for a Frankerin’.

After giving him a public lesson in marksmanship, Annie is hired by his manager—Buffalo Bill—to join the Wild West touring show.  The story, which revolves around their romance, is predictable; but cut it some slack, it debuted in 1946.

The only part of the story that I don’t get is Annie’s change from lovestruck girl who would do anything for Frank to the girl who sings about how his wedding plans are bunk and she wants things totally different. Did her adventures touring Europe or Frank’s pride cause the change?

Lindgren and Whimpey both do admirable jobs with their characters.  Lindgren is a strikingly beautiful protagonist, has a sweet voice, and plays the tomboy well (though she could draw some more attention to herself and sell to the audience a bit more).  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel any chemistry between the two. These things added up to a pretty underwhelming “Anything You Can Do,” which wasn’t the showstopper it probably should be.

I loved Stephanie Purcell as Winnie Tate.  She was a fine dancer and singer and pulled off her character with great aplomb.  And while her love interest Tommy Keeler (Seth Jerome) looked more likely to ride a surfboard than a horse, it worked because his goofiness made him more endearing.

Scott VanDyke stole the stage as Buffalo Bill.  If Rodgers put him in every scene and changed the name to Buffalo Bill Grab Your Rifle, I would give them all a high five.  His “Show Business (Reprise)” with Frank and Charlie (Kenneth Reid Barber) was my favorite number of the night.  It was good enough for any stage.

And little Bronson Mercer as Little Jake and kin Megan Warburton (Nellie) and Hannah Naylor (Jessie) made me want to gouge out my eyes because they were so cute.

But there was one actor (whom I won’t name because he was, after all, a volunteer like the rest) whom displayed obviously poor singing and acting abilities.  He stuck out like a sore thumb from the otherwise capable cast.  I can only assume he’s a donor or somebody’s relative.

Rodgers bills itself as a semi-professional theater because everything behind the scenes (sets, costumes, direction) is supplied by professionals while the actors are not reimbursed.  That makes sense, but it creates a problem for me as an audience member.  When I go to community theater, I overlook the obvious problems, otherwise I won’t enjoy the show.  It’s an automatic filter which allows me to get the most entertainment.  But when I go to professional theaters like Pioneer Theater Company or the Utah Shakespearean Festival, I don’t go wearing rose-colored glasses.  There isn’t much—if anything—to overlook.  I’m completely open to the show with no reservations.

So what am I supposed to do for semi-professional theater?  There’s no middle ground between glossing over problems and not.  Instead I just have to flit between them as I watch, which is unnerving as a critical audience member.

So, how were Annie Get Your Gun’s professional elements?  The mikes and the Cincinnati set were really good.  The choreography had some fun moments, but the dancers often looked at each other to make sure they’re dancing the right steps.  Maurie Tarbox’s direction was fine, though can I just say her bit in the program about “belief in the vision I tried to set forth” made me roll my eyes?

The costume department must have raided Garth Brook’s closet for Whimpey’s outfits.  The costumes were good on the rack, but I spotted at least a dozen problems with bowties, vests, and even dresses falling off.

On the whole, these elements aren’t up to professional standards, but then again most of them are dependent upon the volunteer actors to carry them out.  (Don’t get me wrong, though.  As a cast of community volunteers, they made for pretty good show.)  But it makes Rodgers come off as a poseur where they could instead take the crown of the best community theater in the Wasatch Front.

Annie Get Your Gun runs June 18 – July 17, Monday – Saturday at 7:30pm at Rodgers Memorial Theatre (292 E. Pages Lane, Centerville). Adult tickets are typically $17, but there are group and mid-week discounts. www.rodgersmemorial.com.

Question to our Readers:

  • What establishes your level of expectations when attending a theatre performance?