PAYSON — There are some shows that, even with their flaws, stand the test of time and are always a joy to watch. Annie Get Your Gun is such a show. Debuting on Broadway first in 1946, this energetic and joyful show has morphed and changed over the years, but at its core is a story of resiliency and love accompanied by some of the catchiest tunes ever written for a Broadway show. Local audiences fortunately have the chance to see this classic show at Payson Community Theatre’s latest summer production. Don’t miss out on this toe-tapping good time.
With music and lyrics by the great Irving Berlin, Annie Get Your Gun tells the heavily fictionalized true story of real life sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her recruitment into the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and her relationship with fellow cowboy Frank Butler. The 1999 Broadway revival of the show made a lot of changes, including using Frank to introduce the audience to the show and open the play with “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The main story is then structured as a show within a show, with different characters introducing scenes and settings throughout the production.
This structure works to the benefit of the experience in Payson because Michael Hess is the greatest asset to the production as Frank. Maddisson Fitzgerald brings a fun energy to Annie Oakley, but Hess has a charisma and beautiful tenor voice that captures the stage. He is as believable in the lonely heartstruck moments as in the cocky arrogant ones — and everything in between. My favorite sequences were probably “My Defenses are Down” and “Anything You Can Do,” where Frank really gets to shine as a character.
Director M. Chase Grant has brought a real community spirit into the production where it is clear everyone is having a great time. And that’s what anyone wants to see in a show like Annie Get Your Gun. I could not help but smile upon seeing joyous numbers like “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (with at least 2 reprises), and “Who Do You Love, I Hope.”
The set design by Cade Swenson is simple, with an old west backdrop of the Wild West Show and different banners and signs used to show a change in location (including Annie’s name being added as a banner when she becomes as big of a star as Frank.) The show also features period-appropriate costumes from designer Clara Hancock. I particularly liked Annie’s blue dress at the end, with all of her medals because it merged together the Americana of the Wild West Show and Annie’s humble origins. It was a dress that she would probably have worn. Additionally, Mailea Dalley’s Dolly Tate got some of the best costumes of the night, with a red and white striped dress being a particular stand out.
Despite the changes that Peter Stone made in the 1999 revival, there are still some outdated elements of Annie Get Your Gun. While it is vastly improved from the original text (written by Dorothy and Herbert Fields), the portrayal of Sitting Bull still feels like a caricature, and Dolly’s main character arc is being racist towards Tommy for being part-Indian. While the producers, director, and actors Payson do not have the freedom to change the script, it is important that audience members know about these dated elements so they can be prepared.
In the 21st century, it is also a little cringy to have Annie repeatedly told that she “can’t get a man with a gun,” meaning she has to be the submissive one in the relationship. Again, Stone improved upon this aspect in the 1999 revival with a new ending. But maybe Frank is not much of a man if he cannot handle a strong woman like Annie?
All that said, the only main critique I would have of the production at Payson is the choreography by Emma Black felt safe and minimalistic. The actors do break into a kickline for “Show Business,” but for much of the songs, the characters are sitting or standing in a line when they could be moving around the stage or dancing. This was a weakness, particularly, in songs like “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly.”
Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed Annie Get Your Gun at Payson Community Theatre. It is well worth the time to drive to Payson and support their joyous and entertaining production of Annie Get Your Gun with a strong leading man and a infectious community spirit. Don’t miss it!