FARMINGTON — I owe a great deal to Irving Berlin. I auditioned for my high school theatre troupe singing Annie Get Your Gun’s most famous song, “There’s No Business like Show Business,” which propelled me to a deep love of theater as I became enticed by the chance to “steal that extra bow.”
Farmington City’s presentation of Annie Get Your Gun continues the tradition and while not “everything about it is appealing,” it captures the beauty that is putting together a show and having that moment of success. This community theatre did very well in bringing out the best of their performers. The levels capable from the performers varied greatly, but it was pleasant to see each have their shining moment.
Irving Berlin’s classic music and Dorothy and Herbert Fields’s book present Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as the surrounding big top for the story of how competing sharpshooters, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, fall in and out of love. The concept that this is one of Buffalo Bill’s shows helped frame up the limitations of the community theatre into a hard working cohesive group. Thus scene changes that involved many plainly visible actors felt natural after each of Charlie Davenport’s calls, announcing the next scene. It was odd however when one change began during “I Got Lost in His Arms.” This had not happened in any other scene, and while I understood some staffing reasons, this felt unduly distracting as actors dressed for the next scene shuffled and squeaked boxes across the stage during Annie’s performance.
The show did go on, but did miss the mark in some spots. The excessively loud and speedy backup track was the main culprit, and several times during the show the actors had difficulty singing in sync with the pre-recorded music. “Anything You Can Do” became a three-way competition between Annie, Frank, and the music track. Volume concerns and the music cutting the jokes short left the classic song a little more flustered than the usual confidence competition befit of this finale. The dancing was also occasionally affected; the rushed track made the choreography feel extra rushed and loose in “I’ll Share It All With You.”
Otherwise, the choreography by Ashley Carlson added to the excitement on the stage, made good efforts to move, and helped fill the space. She did well to put together simple but accentuated dances into songs like “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “My Defenses are Down” for less experienced dancers. Yet, this was delightfully played up when the anxiously reunited couple of Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate really exploded in “Who Do You Love, I Hope.”
The costumes (by Karen Stoddard, Lauralyn Clark, Rachel Brook) did well to highlight the right parts of each character and Annie’s rags to fame (but not so much riches) story. While most of the male characters were relegated to jeans, Frank’s the big hat and black ensemble and the jackets on Buffalo Bill and Charlie Davenport cleanly and clearly showed their character. A surprising quirk was Annie’s first pair of boots having small high heel to it. It just felt out of character with the hillbilly costume and attitude.
Some technical surefires included the video montage of the “European tour,” cutting in stock video of Europe and Buffalo Bills actual show with close ups of this cast’s own Annie. I also thought that the spectacle of Tommy’s knife throwing, and Annie rotating on a big wheel for her big debut (complete with confetti for the audience) were successful.
The direction of the show by Norma Sturgeon pulled these elements together and made the show a fun little revue that told Annie and Frank’s story. Good choices were especially made in the solo and duet numbers that helped draw in the audience despite the limited action. I wished more out of the group numbers though. “Moonshine Lullaby” exhibited some great harmonies, highlighting the work of musical director Shannon Wilson, but I didn’t know why the male ensemble was on stage. I loved the cast’s interested involvement in “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” but the instantaneous set up of everyone in the back waiting for the song to begin was too canned.
This community of actors is what made the show in the end. Excitement, fun, and effectively following the direction given can make a good show, and this cast did that. Standout lead performances came from Tommy and Winnie (Clark Wilson and Kayeli Dupaix). Their romance had just enough young love and energetic dancing to be exciting, but never pushed it to the annoying level that can easily happen with their characters.
There was a certain standoffish confidence to Frank Butler’s smile. Johnny Hebda does this with ease. He was easily confident on the stage and provided much of the power to his songs and group numbers. That confidence could grow tiresome and the character could become increasingly unlikable. If that smile hadn’t subtly changed from extreme confidence to dewy-eyed romance, Frank might have remained a little flat. He did stumble around some of his words in “My Defenses are Down,” but otherwise, his singing stayed true. What would have helped him most was a little more time in the middle range of his emotions, as he was either, very confident, very in love, or very upset. Moments like the end of “The Girl That I Marry” were left with just straight frustration. Hebda did well, though, in the subtle unspoken moments in the shooting competitions and carried the show with the help of his intended.
Annie Oakley’s quaint nature made her comfortable to be around in Shannon Wilson’s excellent performance. I always felt a little more at home when she was on stage. She was naturally friendly her easy drawl, quirky faces, and innocent smile. It was a pleasure when Wilson sang because she brought so much vibrancy to the words. In “I Got Lost in His Arms” she sweetly made an often overly sentimental ballad into a delightful tale of enthusiastic love. The scenes of Annie and Frank are the funniest as their personalities clash over and over, yet somehow I knew Annie’s longing gaze and blunt answers and Frank’s pristine smile and brazen overconfidence all fit together perfectly. There may be a big disagreement, like in “An Old Fashioned Wedding,” but in the end they find each other.
This show took enthusiasm and very good cast to create a fun Wild West Show. It had its unorganized moments, but strong leads kept the shot true.