Encore Michigan

High-caliber ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ at The Riverbank

Review September 29, 2019 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–The trick shot competition is on at the Riverbank in their production of Annie Get Your Gun. The “old-fashioned” musical, directed by Kathy Vertin, features music by Irving Berlin in the fictionalized tale of the real life Annie Oakley, sharpshooting marvel of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

As the show opens, we meet Frank Butler (Aaron Smith), the reigning “champeen” shooter and star of Buffalo Bill’s show, also a womanizer and braggart.  At one of the tour stops, a shooting match is arranged between Frank and a local sharpshooter.  Before the match, he runs into Annie (Brittany Smith), who instantly falls for him, and makes up her mind to make Frank her man.  At the match, however, Annie discovers that the “swollen headed stiff” she intends to out-shoot is Frank, and Frank is aghast that his opponent is a girl.  She wins the contest, and is offered a role in the show—as Frank’s assistant, to the dismay of his current assistant, the melodramatic Dolly (Wendy Cave).

Frank and Annie grow closer and the show’s success grows, but Buffalo Bill still feels inferior to his rival’s traveling show.  He develops a plan to have Annie debut a new surprise trick, which Annie feels will impress Frank and finally win his heart for good.  Frank, indeed, plans to propose marriage to Annie, but feels upstaged by Annie’s surprise trick, and defects to the rival show.

After many months of touring Europe, Annie is now an acclaimed worldwide star, but critical acclaim does not guarantee financial success. A suggested merger with the rival show has Annie longing for Frank again, and when they eventually meet up, they agree to the merger—and a wedding.  But Frank’s pride takes another hit when he sees all the medals Annie earned in Europe.  They agree to one more shooting match to prove once and for all who is the better shot, and their competitive natures and inflated egos are on display for all.  Annie ultimately listens to some sage advice on the best way to win Frank’s heart, and finally gets her man!

Berlin was an expert at creating timeless and memorable tunes, and there are many familiar ones here that audiences will recognize and enjoy, such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” and “Anything You Can Do.” Other fun favorites from this production are “You Can’t Get A man With A Gun” and “An Old Fashioned Wedding.” There’s also some fun hoe-down style choreography in “I Got The Sun In The Morning.”  The cast is fully capable of delivering on all vocals, although on opening night there were still a few spots that needed smoothing out, both vocally and instrumentally.

The absolute highlight of this production is Brittany Smith as Annie.  Her Annie is a scrappy  firecracker with a sentimental streak, and her energy carries the show. There is an adorable type of chemistry between her and real-life husband Aaron Smith as Frank Butler. Frank’s character, however, is less well developed, and aside from his competitive nature, Frank’s real personality and motivations are nearly impossible to ascertain. For example, it is difficult to understand what makes this conceited womanizer decide, almost randomly, that he’s ready to settle down with Annie. Their relationship and Frank’s ultimate acquiescence would be more satisfying if it was preceded by more tension, more denial, more rivalry. The point of the show where they achieve that tension in wonderfully entertaining fashion happens late in Act II during “Anything You Can Do,” where Annie and Frank repeatedly try to out-do each other.

The supporting cast also suffers slightly from characters who struggle to break out of their two-dimensional personas.  Their roles are mostly relegated to the background and exposition, punctuated now and then with pops of energy or witty remarks.  A side story of two young show members who want to run off to be married showcases a cute matchup between cast members Maddie Ringvelski and Caleb Horner, but adds nothing to the plot.  There are standouts, however, especially Wendy Cave as Butler’s assistant Dolly.  Her melodramatic nature and her jealousy of Annie make her a good foil and good for some laughs.  

Set pieces and backdrops are simple and minimal, but costumes are colorful and fun. All in all, the story and the spunky character of Annie Oakley make this show a fun evening at the theatre for all ages.  Annie Get Your Gun is playing at The Riverbank through October 27.

Week of 10/14/2019

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