Annie Get Your Gun at New WimbledonCultureTheatre
“Roll up, roll up” the trumpet blasts seem to announce as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Circus rolls into town. Stars and stripes adorn the stage at every turn, the red and white billowing like a circus top over the busy stage. Irving Berlin’s iconic musical mashes two genres together with an old fashioned disregard for cliche: the rootin’ tootin’ wild wild West and the razzle dazzle of the circus. Both come alive in director Ian Talbot’s touring production.
Jason Donovan as sharpshooter Frank Butler is the big name on the billing, but his performance is slow, his voice strained and he looks exhausted. “There’s no people like show people” the cast sings, “they smile when they are low”. But Donovan’s smile fades by the time they take their final bows. Instead, it is Emma Williams who steals it playing Annie Oakley, the rough cowgirl whose shooting prowess and increasing fame jeopardise her love for Frank. She goes through a Pygmalionesque transformation from pigtails and leather to silk and lace. Williams’ voice is smooth and clear, her comic timing gets the few big laughs and her vocal talent is on full and impressive display in Anything You Can Do.
But Berlin’s musical has aged badly. Annie is willing to hide her talent for the sake of her man; the portrayal of Native Americans is highly insensitive. While Chief Sitting Bull is played by Ed Currie, a white actor, Currie still does a stereotypical Red Indian voice and is decked in a huge feather headdress.
The ensemble produces a strong sound when they sing all together, the onstage orchestra is excellent under Stephen Ridley and the design is colourful. Three or four iterations of There’s No Business Like Show Business and a thin plot make the over two-hour run time seem like a stretch, but Williams’ performance and the razzmatazz charm are an authentic throwback to the era of the classic American musical.
Annie Get Your Gun is on at New Wimbledon Theatre until 13th September 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the cast talk about the production here: