‘Annie Get Your Gun’ actor hitches show to composer Irving Berlin
November 22, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
“Annie Get Your Gun” at Village Theatre is connected to Irving Berlin by more than just the score.
The connection between the local staging and the storied composer is Josh Feinsilber, 10, the actor and Issaquah Highlands resident playing Little Jake, a pint-sized assistant to the show’s sharpshooter and heroine, Annie Oakley.
Josh’s great-grandfather, Joe Feldman, penned a song for touring musicians at the tail end of the Great Depression.
“Irving Berlin’s film featured one of my numbers by a big band coast-to-coast, and stated that ‘the local lad writes at least four hits a year or considers the year wasted,’” Feldman told The Washington Post in 1938.
Josh’s father, Amir Feinsilber, learned about the connection to Berlin not long after Josh landed the “Annie Get Your Gun” role.
“I had no idea that he was a songwriter at all, until after he passed away and my mom reconnected with her brothers,” Amir Feinsilber said.
Berlin composed “Annie Get Your Gun” in 1946 and, 65 years later, Village Theatre selected to stage the show for the holiday season.
The elder Feinsilber’s uncle, Michael Feldman, held onto memorabilia and belongings from his late father, Joe Feldman, through the decades.
Michael Feldman brought up the musical connection to the elder Feldman after Amir Feinsilber posted to Facebook about Josh scoring the Village Theatre role.
“At first, I didn’t believe him,” Amir Feinsilber said. “I said, ‘Let me see the proof.’”
So, Michael Feldman sent paperwork and photos to the Feinsilbers.
Joe Feldman, a prolific songwriter, composed songs by the hundreds each year, and “according to him, he said Irving Berlin stole a lot of his songs — I don’t have any proof of that,” Amir Feinsilber joked.
Feldman later served in the Army amid World War II and suffered wounds near Normandy, France, not long after D-Day in June 1944. The young soldier received a Purple Heart for his combat injuries.
“My uncle, Michael Feldman, said they still sing his songs around the dinner table during Christmas, during Chanukah,” Amir Feinsilber said. “He wrote so many different songs that have yet to be uncovered.”
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‘Annie Get Your Gun’
Joe Feldman could not play any musical instruments, Amir Feinsilber recalled. Instead, he had a knack for rhyming — something Feinsilber found a little strange on visits to his grandfather’s home in Israel.
“The talent that he had didn’t even come close to his worldly possessions and his wealth,” Amir Feinsilber said. “He wasn’t very wealthy at all. He was just a very simple person.”
Josh Feinsilber started in the arts as a member of KidShine, a children’s performing group in Las Vegas. Then, after his family relocated to Issaquah, a friend suggested Josh as a possible extra for a short film shooting in the area.
“He’s definitely more musically talented than anybody else in our family,” Amir Feinsilber said.
The burgeoning actor enjoyed the experience, and started to scour the Internet to find prospective roles. The audition for “Annie Get Your Gun” unfolded smoothly.
“I was asking every day, ‘Did I make it?’” Josh recalled.
In the days after the audition, his parents learned Josh had indeed been cast as Little Jake.
“I was sleeping on the couch,” he recalled. “I was super tired, and all the sudden when I heard I made it, my energy just whooped up.”
Josh, a bright and focused fifth-grader in the science and technology magnet program at Clark Elementary School, is in the midst of a balancing act between work and school.
“Lately, I’ve been sleeping in an extra hour so I can hopefully get all of my sleep,” Josh said, forming air quotes around the phrase “all of my sleep.”
Backstage, Josh sits next to actor Dane Stokinger in the dressing room. Stokinger — as sharpshooter Frank Butler, the lead male role — downloaded some iPad games at Josh’s urging. Josh also memorized the entire “Annie Get Your Gun” script.
“He said, ‘Well, Dad, I need to know their lines so I know when I have to interject,’” Amir Feinsilber said.