Some may take it as a bad omen when a horse relieves itself onstage early in the opening night performance, but it didn’t seem to bother the cast of Tuacahn’s production of “Annie Get Your Gun.” This show is one of the jewels of the summer theater season, and no interference from an equine party-pooper is going to change that.
The now-familiar story of the Irving Berlin musical is of backwoods sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her romance (and rivalry) with Frank Butler while both worked in Buffalo Bill Cody’s traveling Wild West show.
Annie is a great role for an actress who has a flair for comedy and a willingness to deglamorize herself. Luckily, we have Mindy Smoot Robbins, who graduated from BYU and played a similar rags-to-riches character in “My Fair Lady” there. Her voice is beautiful, her timing is sharp — she works madly, singing, dancing, acting, and never breaking a sweat (at least, not that you can see from the cheap seats). She is hysterical in the funny scenes and tender in the emotional scenes. It is one of the finest musical performances you’ll see on a Utah stage this year.
In the 1946 Broadway production, Ray Middleton had the thankless task of playing Frank Butler opposite the dynamo known as Ethel Merman. At Tuacahn, it is the talented Andrew Husmann who must live in Annie’s shadow. His baritone voice is powerful, and if the role of Frank were written as anything more than a foil for Annie, I don’t doubt he could fill it. In the “Anything You Can Do” number, Husmann and Robbins complement each other nicely.
Husband and wife Nathan and Suzie Balser play the secondary couple, Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate. Their moment in the spotlight, “I Hope,” is adorable, evolving into one of the show’s biggest dance numbers. (Katherine Tueller Schmid’s costume design is particularly effective here, with a sea of white gloves contrasting nicely with black tuxedos, all moving in unison to Derryl Yeager’s choreography.)
I also enjoyed Janelle M. Lannan as Winnie’s throaty-voiced Gorgon of a sister, Dolly; her counterpart is Douglas M. Bilitch, doing a Jon Lovitz impression as huckster Charlie Davenport. They are amusing, as is Keith Weirich as Sitting Bull.
Heck, they’re all good in this cast, and they have a good director in Jim Bennett. The “Moonshine Lullaby” and Indian tribal dance scenes often drag this show down, but in this production, they move along brightly.
Bennett also has not succumbed to the temptations of the spacious Tuacahn Amphitheatre, and he has not over-done “Annie Get Your Gun.” Scenes that can reasonably be expanded to fill the stage are expanded; scenes with just two people talking remain that way. It manages to be extravagant and intimate at the same time. This is a classy, professional production.
It was later pointed out to me that the song "Old-Fashioned Wedding" was cut from this show. I love that song. But the production must have been good enough without it, because I didn't notice its absence.