Annie Get Your Gun AJ Lewis, Nina Bell, Kyerron Dixon-Bassey. Photo Harry Elletson.

Review of Annie Get Your Gun at Lavender Theatre

The opening scenes do nothing to push back against the caricature of certain Americans like Annie Oakley (SuRie) learning how to operate guns even before they are fully literate. Other elements in Herbert and Dorothy Fields’ book, revised by Peter Stone, provoke some telling responses from a contemporary audience. When the Chief Sitting Bull (a sufficiently authoritative Jay Faisca) tells Oakley her love interest and shooting competition rival Frank Butler (Charlie McCullagh), “like all men, cannot be shown up by a woman!” boos rang out from the crowd at the audience I attended. But it made Oakley’s victory in the following musical number, ‘Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)’ all the more triumphant.

Annie Get Your Gun. SuRie (Annie Oaklry) and young cast Photo Harry Elletson.
Annie Get Your Gun. SuRie (Annie Oaklry) and young cast Photo Harry Elletson.

Inclement weather is a perennial challenge for any production team that puts shows on in the open air in Blighty. Evidently, some thought had gone into contingency measures – for one thing, the audience itself was undercover, even if what I can only describe as a gigantic gazebo had multiple holes in it. No such protection was afforded to the company, however, partly because ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’, which Oakley and Butler (or, as Butler would have it, Butler and Oakley) become a part of, was a form of outdoor entertainment. It logically follows, then, that this open-air production would want to make use of the natural habitat. But on a particularly rainy day, Buffalo Bill Cody’s (Elliot Broadfoot) final line, “Now there’s nothing left to do except walk off into the sunset”, elicited hearty laughter from the audience.

With several attempts to sweep the stage clear of rainwater, rarely has the lyric, “Let’s go on with the show!” been more apt. There was a point, and let’s just say I wasn’t the only person in the audience thinking this, that I wouldn’t have minded if they’d called off the performance. Clearly, that’s not something they do, and watching them all battling through the wind and rain was an extraordinary sight, a magnificent achievement, and resulted in a standing ovation extremely well deserved. A fellow patron was quite right to call for a round of applause for the staff member sweeping the stage. Oh, and a gust of wind blew down part of the pre-show signage, such that Annie Get Your Gun was temporarily renamed An Our Gun.

Lighting design was neither here nor there on a Saturday matinee – blackouts, for instance, are obviously impossible – and very minor sound issues (again, perhaps weather related) didn’t detract too much from understanding what was happening at any given moment. I’ve no idea if any precautions were taken in terms of choreography for a presumably more slippery stage than usual, though it’s telling when the three children in the company enjoyed splashing about in what was, in effect, a big puddle, and seemed to be the only ones who really went for it in terms of dancing and movement.

SuRie, who I am reliably informed was interrupted by a stage invasion during the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, plays Annie Oakley softer and more playful than those who follow the standard set by Ethel Merman. Her stage chemistry with McCullagh’s Frank Butler is palpable, even if the stage is so big it’s a bit like watching a tennis match when they’re stood at opposite ends in conversation. Debbi Clark leads a seven-piece orchestra brilliantly (if you think that’s small, the Young Vic did this musical in 2009 with four pianos and no other instruments). Quite a lot of pushing and pulling of set pieces and props goes on, and a strong and committed cast – there are no weak links to report – deliver a thoroughly enjoyable performance from start to finish. Or in this case, from delayed start to pause to extended interval to finish. The programme promised a “unique theatrical experience”. I can only say I can’t recall a visit to the theatre quite like this one.

5 Stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Featuring a glittering score of Irving Berlin’s best-loved songs, ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ proves There’s No Business Like Show Business in all-singing, all-dancing, gun-toting glory!

Director/choreographer Simon Hardwick will bring the story to life in 2023 with a raw and kinetic staging evoking the energy of Buffalo Bill’s original touring celebrations of the Wild West.

Leading the cast are SuRie as Annie Oakley, Charlie McCullagh (‘Bonnie & Clyde’, ‘Dr. Zhivago’, ‘42 Balloons’) as Frank Butler, Chlöe Hart (Catherine of Aragon in the national tour of ‘Six’, ‘Evita’, ‘Kinky Boots’) as Dolly Tate and Elliot Broadfoot, a 2023 graduate from Leeds Conservatoire making his professional debut as Buffalo Bill.

The rest of the company features Nina Bell (‘Dr. Suess’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas’, ‘Matilda’, UK & Ireland Tour), Joe Boyle (‘Top Hat’, ‘Heathers’), Kyerron Dixon-Bassey (‘From Here To Eternity)’, Jay Faisca (‘Henry VI: Days of Rebellion’), Marisa Harris (‘Yeast Nation’, ‘Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera’), Holly Lawrence (‘Grease’, Royal Caribbean), AJ Lewis (‘Mandela’, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’), and Joseph Vella (‘Gypsy’, ‘From Here To Eternity’).

Playing Annie’s younger siblings are Olivia Ainsworth, Mayah Balcerak, Layla Duke, Mahlie Duval, Poppy LeRougetel, and Caitlin Muggeridge.

Creative team:
Director/Choreographer Simon Hardwick (‘My Fair Lady’)
Associate Director and Choreographer Maria Graciano (‘Moulin Rouge’)
Musical Supervisor Matthew Spalding (‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Singin’ In The Rain’)
Musical Director Debbi Clarke (‘Stranger Sings’, ‘DIVA: Live From Hell!’)
Casting Danielle Tarento
Produced by Lavender Theatre Artistic Director Joe McNeice for Lavender Productions Ltd

It will run at the 250-seat open air theatre Lavender Theatre from 17 July – 5 August.

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