ANNIE GET YOUR GUN
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Original Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields
Revised by Peter Stone.
3 Stars ***
The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 17 June 2017.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr 20 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876
Review: William Russell 30 May .
A sparkling miss and lots of hits,
This is not, whatever anyone thinks, the show written by the Fields and it does not contain all the songs from the original score. Peter Stone’s revision is ill constructed and silly, although, to be fair, the book was never the show’s strong point. It contains some of the best songs Irving Berlin ever wrote and while the loss of I’m An Indian Too and I’m a Bad, Bad Man among them is regrettable and pointless enough remains. What the show cries out for is a leading lady who can invest the role of Annie Oakley with charm, zest and a good strong voice and in Gemma Maclean director Kirk Jameson has found just the lady to do all that. Ms Maclean is not a natural belter, but her voice is strong and she glows. He is less lucky in his Frank Butler, the rival sharp shooter with a gun Annie falls for, Blair Robertson is imposing, but stiff and, while he sings well, there is little chemistry between him and Ms Maclean.
Stone has set it as a show within a show, shifted numbers around, dropped a couple – the Indian one possibly because it is of its time and may be slightly offensive from the point of view of native Americans today. The trouble is one meddles with a musical’s structure at one’s peril. On the plus side there is a good supporting cast, some feisty choreography by Ste Clough, and a very superior band under Alex Bellamy to do justice to those melodies. Ms Maclean, however, is the reason for going, as well as a chance to listen to the songs.
She survives a dreadful wig in Act two when Annie has become civilised after touring Europe, and a truly ghastly olive green ball gown for the big return to New York with aplomb. The dress designer Amy Watts should be eviscerated on her pinking sheers for inflicting this horror on the poor woman. As for the two sizes too small waistcoat she foisted on Butler words fail me.
There are some problems with the sexual politics – you maybe cannot get a man with a gun but you sure as anything have to turn yourself into a little woman to do so – and the nods to pretending we are watching a show within a show grate. But there is always There’s No Business Like Show Business and all the rest to keep one happy.
There is a nice performance as Dolly Tate, a bitchy rival for Butler’s charms, by Lala Barlow, and a promising professional debut by Dafydd Lansley as Charlie Davenport, a rather charming, gauche and funny aide to Buffalo Bill who gets to narrate the tale.
The pity is that Jameson did not revive the show as written rather than this bowdlerised version by Mr Stone. Anything he can do the Fields did better. That said, his staging is fluent – it uses the Union space well – and the show is worth catching for those songs alone – well, they don’t write them like that any more.
Annie Oakley: Gemma Maclean.
Frank Butler: Blair Robertson.
Buffalo Bill: Mark Pollard.
Dolly Tate: Lala Barlow.
Winnie Tate: Georgia Conlan.
Tommy Keeler: Dominic Harbison.
Charlie Davenport: Dafydd Lansley.
Little Jake/ Chief Sitting Bull: Lawrence Guntery.
Nellie: Sarah Day.
Jessie: Chanai Ankrah.
Foster Wilson/Pawnee Bill: Aneurin Pascoe.
Ensemble: Charlotte Alloway, Jack Warren, Luke Jarvis, Ashley Daniels.
Director: Kirk Jameson.
Choreographer: Ste Clough.
Musical Director: Alex Ballamy.
Designer Amy Watts.
Lighting Designer: Tim Deiling.
Associate Choreographer: Amy West.