Last night, I was in the audience for the special concert performance of Annie Get Your Gun presented by New York City Center. It was a two-performance event: the first for their big fundraising gala, the second for the common man (i.e. me). Despite the pouring rain and subsequent decimation of my Playbill, it was a really awesome evening.
Annie Oakley is one of those musical theatre roles that can only be played by a pure juggernaut. It’s not easy for an actress to capture the homespun charm, feisty confidence, and transitory arc of the character…all while belting her face off. It makes perfect sense that the great Ethel Merman was the one who originated the part. She was followed by such actresses as Bernadette Peters, Judy Kaye (who was actually in last night’s show), and now Megan Hilty.
Hilty gave a sparkly and sincere performance as the title character- and from the reviews I read by other people, a universally acclaimed one. More than one person believed that if this concert production ever became a full show and ended up on Broadway, she would have a Tony Award in the bag. It was unusual to see a platinum blonde Annie Oakley…I’m so used to the character having darker hair! But that’s a minor thing, as Megan Hilty brought the house down with her sick vocal range and comedic timing.
Her Frank Butler was Andy Karl, who (as you may know) I adored in On the Twentieth Century. He was more of the “straight guy” in this role; that is, Frank’s masculine coolness really contrasts Bruce Granit’s flashy histrionics. But his voice was in prime form, and he and Hilty sounded beautiful during the love duets. Furthermore, one of my favorite moments in the show was their “Anything You Can Do.”
It really is Annie and Frank’s show, but the supporting cast was also very enthusiastic and talented. Ron Raines (who I last saw in Follies) was Buffalo Bill, while Something Rotten‘s Brad Oscar portrayed Charlie Davenport. And the two children playing Annie’s brother and sister were adorable. Some of my other favorite moments in the show, actually, were things that can only be done with NY City Center’s Encores! productions. You see, Encores! shows are done concert-style, so the actors often have their scripts in-hand. City Center is very, very good at incorporating the scripts into the humor of the show; they almost become a bonus prop for the actors to play with.
The bottom line? Although the story is dated, and my companion was quite upset with Lady Oakley’s final decision, you really can’t go wrong with a classic like Annie Get Your Gun. The brilliant, timeless Irving Berlin score is reason enough for that. But when you also have a cast like the one I saw last night, the stage is dynamite!