Jenn Gambatese Shines in "Annie Get Your Gun" at Goodspeed
When Irving Berlin's musical comedy "Annie Get Your Gun" opened on Broadway in spring 1946, not even 20 years had elapsed since the deaths of its inspirations, the legendary exhibition sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. It is a fictionalized telling of their true-life romance and marriage, and of Oakley's meteoric rise to international celebrity with "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World."
But the "real" Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosely in rural western Ohio (1860-1926), is blurred by memories of Ethel Merman, the brassy Broadway belter for whom the musical was written as a star vehicle. Merman's trademark song, "There's No Business Like Show Business," comes from this work. And she was known to upstage anyone.
So it is a delight to encounter the actor and accomplished singer Jenn Gambatese in the title role at Goodspeed Musicals. If she outshines the capable cast in this entertaining revival directed by Rob Ruggiero, it's because Gambatese and Ruggiero have created a multi-dimensional character.
As Annie, Gambatese's speaking voice and its assumed twang are reminiscent of Dolly Parton's girlish lilt. Hers is a trained mezzo soprano with secure intonation, clear enunciation and fluid finesse.
From the moment her lithe, petite figure enters the stage wearing buckskin, toting a rifle, nose and cheeks smudged with gunpowder, she radiates Annie's sunny self-confidence, candor and wit, the latter with a quick, broad grin. While Annie's backwoods ways become refined as the plot progresses, Gambatese remains true to her guileless, affectionate spirit.
The anomaly is, of course, the song "An Old Fashioned Wedding."
Composer and lyricist Irving Berlin is to blame for undercutting Annie's insistence upon independence by emphasizing diamonds, platinum, champagne and caviar in her duet with Frank Butler.
The tall, boyish-faced Kevin Earley is a splendid-voiced Frank. He and Gambatese have an easy rapport.
The musical's secondary romance between Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate are nicely acted, danced and sung by Andrew Cao and Chelsea Morgan Stock.
David McDonald is a gracious and affable "Buffalo Bill" Cody; James Beaman plays his manager, Charlie Davenport, with a New Yorker's wily acumen; Rebecca Watson is funny as Frank's assistant, the churlish and jealous Dolly Tate; and Michael Nichols attempts to dignify the troublesome role of Chief Sitting Bull (histories tell us he named Annie Oakley "Little Sure-Shot").
For "Annie Get Your Gun," Ruggiero returns to Goodspeed ("Camelot," "Big River" and "1776") to be reunited with a trusted creative trio: Michael Schweikardt (scenery), Alejo Vietti (costumes) and John Lasiter (lighting).
Noah Racey's choreography is more technically demanding than much seen recently in the region, and the cast dances with precision and aplomb.
The eight-member orchestra is led by music director Michael O'Flaherty.
•ANNIE GET YOUR GUN runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission, and plays through July 3 at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam. Tickets are $27.50 to $71. Information: 860-873-8668 or www.goodspeed.com.
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