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Annie Get Your Gun

Andrea McArdle and the magnificent Jeffrey Coon star in the Prince Music Theater's problematic revival of this classic American musical.

By New York City
Andrea McArdle in Annie Get Your Gun
(© Mark Garvin)
Andrea McArdle in
Annie Get Your Gun
(© Mark Garvin)
Annie Get Your Gun, which originally opened at Philadelphia's Forrest Theatre in 1946 and returns to town in a new production at the Prince Music Theater, features one of the musical theater's finest scores, by Irving Berlin, and a witty, often amusing book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. In addition, the Prince production is directed by Richard M. Parison, the man behind the theater's staging of Dreamgirls, which had audiences storming the box office last holiday season; and it stars hometown favorite Andrea McArdle, who won hearts and a Tony nomination for her performance in the title role of the original Broadway production of Annie in 1977. So, why isn't this Gun more successful?

One problem is that American culture has changed dramatically over the years. Parison has staged the 1966 Lincoln Center version of the show; it includes the "I'm an Indian Too," which was cut from the 1999 Broadway revival starring Bernadette Peters due to the number's questionable depiction of Native Americans. Indeed, the song isn't central to the plot, and the sight of Caucasian actors performing a Native American adoption ritual may make some audience members uncomfortable. (It must be noted that the local troupe Native Nations Dance Theater, which strives to educate audiences about Native American culture, served as an artistic advisor on the production.)

Moreover, the musical's depiction of the relationships between men and women is considerably dated. Annie Oakley (McArdle) is a dirt-poor sharpshooter from rural Ohio who finds work as gunman Frank Butler's (Jeffrey Coon) assistant in Buffalo Bill's traveling show. The two fall in love, but though Annie can "shoot the fuzz off a peach," the chauvinistic Butler refuses to share top billing with a woman. So they part ways, both professionally and personally.

They eventually get back together, but Annie still bristles at Frank's chauvinism; in the song "An Old Fashioned Wedding," which was added to the show for the 1966 production, Annie promises to "love and honor, yes, but not obey." Marriage becomes a possibility for them only if Annie will allow Butler to call the shots, so to speak, in all aspects of their lives.

McArdle isn't the perfect Annie; she seems a bit too pleasant and surprisingly understated for the role. But Coon is magnificent as the charismatic Butler, playing the role with just the right mix of dash and bombast. The two complement each other very well in their duets, especially the wonderful "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," and McArdle does a nice job with "Moonshine Lullaby."

Unfortunately, the supporting cast members struggles with Berlin's music. Their vocal shortcomings are particularly noticeable in the anthem "There's No Business like Show Business," which teams Coon with Christopher Coucill as Buffalo Bill and John Scherer as Charlie Davenport. The pair's lack of vocal prowess results in the tune being a major disappointment. However, when Scherer is not called upon to sing, he gives a winning performance as Davenport. And the reliable Mary Martello is amusing as the devious Dolly Tate.

Mercedes Ellington, who captured a Barrymore Award for her work on Dreamgirls, again shows why she is one of the city's top choreographers. Eric Barnes' musical direction is also impressive. But their efforts and Coon's charm can't make this Gun a fully loaded event.


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