Village Theatre’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ nails the target
November 15, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
“Annie Get Your Gun” is often all hat and no cattle.
Too many theaters trade on the musical’s good name, a storied pedigree and recognizable songs to produce shows set in a West more mild than wild. Not Village Theatre.
The rendition on stage in Issaquah through Dec. 31 is as gutsy and snappy as the title character, sharpshooter Annie Oakley.
“Annie Get Your Gun” abounds in a coltish energy from the dance numbers and a hard-to-resist magnetism from the lead actors, Dane Stokinger as marksman Frank Butler and Vicki Noon, a former Elphaba in a national tour of “Wicked” and a Liberty High School alumna, in the title role.
Noon is incandescent as Oakley, a bumpkin pulled from backwoods obscurity for a spot in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
Throughout the musical, as Oakley evolves from simpleton to celebrity, Noon imparts depth and charm on a character too easy to shortchange. The change — “Pygmalion” on the prairie, perhaps — is the most compelling plot thread running through the classic musical.
The rendition on stage at Village Theatre uses a 1999 Broadway revival as a template — a smart decision, too, because Irving Berlin’s original musical from 1946 sounds a little too old-fashioned nowadays. The revival book strained some smarminess from the 1946 production and re-engineered the classic musical for the 21st century.
Noon, a Broadway-caliber actress in a role forever linked to Ethel Merman and Bernadette Peters, offers a fresh rendition and, alongside Stokinger, a genuine chemistry. Noon, too, relies on the Broadway revival as a guide. The chestnuts “I Got Lost in His Arms” and “Anything You Can Do” sound sharp, not cartoonish.
If you go
‘Annie Get Your Gun’
Stokinger last appeared on the Village Theatre stage as a boy-next-door-turned-exotic-dancer in “The Full Monty” to start the 2010-11 season. “Annie Get Your Gun” offers the talented actor more to do. Butler is a pompous cad, but Stokinger exposes just enough humanity to endear audiences to the character.
The cast includes some standout performers in addition to Noon and Stokinger.
Hugh Hastings is a fine Buffalo Bill Cody, a Kenny Rogers (or Colonel Sanders) look-alike leading the Wild West show. Josh Feinsilber is precocious as the half pint Little Jake, Oakley’s little brother and assistant. Kathryn Van Meter is appealing — all bluster and sass — as Dolly Tate, the spinster assistant to Butler.
The stop-and-go romance between rival sharpshooters Butler and Oakley is told through a grab bag of musical styles and, blessedly, the cast is able to slip seamlessly from number to number.
The romp across the Great American Songbook is a turnaround from the turgid season opener, the original musical “Take Me America.” “Annie Get Your Gun” is a return to form for a theater recognized throughout the region for top-notch productions.
The opening night audience started to applaud before the opening number — “There’s No Business Like Show Business” — came to a close. Despite some technical hiccups — balloons did not pop on cue amid some shooting tricks — the same electricity thrummed throughout the show.
Though the focus is on Steve Tomkins’ and Kristin Culp’s spirited choreography and the Crayola-bright costumes, Bill Forrester created handsome and attention-worthy sets — a steamship anchored in New York Harbor and, through some perspective-stretching magic, a society gala near the climax. The dancing, as fancy as Oakley’s shooting, is used to communicate the Wild West show’s circus-esque atmosphere.
The can-do spirit and spectacle make for a difficult-to-resist offering for the holiday season. “Annie Get Your Gun” manages to complete some nifty tricks and nail the bull’s eye, much as the title character does throughout the show.