‘A hit! A hit!”
That’s what Buffalo Bill shouts (numerous times) during the epic target-shooting match between champion sharpshooter Frank Butler and upstart country girl Annie Oakley. In the excellent revival of Irving Berlin‘s Annie Get Your Gun at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Buffalo Bill could be describing the production itself.
The 1946 Wild West romance may not be the best known of Berlin’s work (Holiday Inn, White Christmas), but as directed by Sheri Lee Miller, Annie is easily one of the best musicals to be staged in Rohnert Park since the center came close to being shut down by the city three years ago for budgetary reasons.
Spreckels has been on the rebound of late, with a string of old and new musicals presented by the New Spreckels Theater Company, and Annie Get Your Gun, with sharp musical direction by Janis Wilson, hits an artistic high mark to which future productions will
be compared. Blending artistic director Gene Abravaya’s taste for flashy stage spectacle with Miller’s knack for achieving strong, emotionally resonant performances from her actors, Annie is as eye-popping and ear-pleasing as it is exciting, satisfying and fun.
Denise Elia gives one of her best-ever performances as Annie Oakley, a plucky newcomer to Buffalo Bill’s traveling Wild West Show. Enamored of the show’s headliner, Frank Butler (a rich Zachary Hasbany), though annoyed by his easily wounded pride, Annie struggles with her desire to show how good she is with a rifle in front of this man who can’t wrap his head around being second best to a woman.
As Buffalo Bill, Dwayne Stincelli is a hoot, and Tim Setzer is marvelous as Charlie, Bill’s wisecracking manager. Liz Jahren plays Dolly Tate, Frank Butler’s flirtatious, jealous assistant—and Annie’s chief antagonist—and is a hilarious force of nature in the role. Dan Monez brings a mountain of heart to the show as Sitting Bull, Annie’s wise and grounded adopted father, and as the story’s other set of would-be lovers, Winnie Tate (Dolly’s sister) and Tommy Keeler (the show’s half-Indian knife thrower), Brittany Law and Anthony Guzman are charming and sweetly affecting.
The set, by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano, features clever break-apart buildings and uses Spreckels’ (often overused) projection system sparingly but quite effectively. A few errant notes didn’t spoil the music, which was consistently marvelous.
Rating (out of 5): ★ ★ ★ ★