I have to admit, I set a pretty high bar for “Annie Get Your Gun,” the quasi-biographical look at the Little Sure Shot herself, Annie Oakley, the anomalous lady sharpshooter who toured globally, winning exhibitions and awards for her performances during the turn of the 19th Century. I know every song by heart, and it’s always been one of my favorites.
And I am not alone. From the Irving Berlin songs to the book by Dorothy Fields and her brother, Herbert, “Annie Get Your Gun” has been a favorite of musical doyennes like Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters, and Reba McIntire. But all of those divas were a little, well, long in the tooth when they took on the role of Annie — who was only 15 when she fell in love with sharpshooter Frank Butler and joined up with Colonel Buffalo Bill’s traveling road show. This Annie — played with just the right amount of naivete and common sense by the electrifying Alexandra Socha — is a young and fearless ingenue.
From the stand-out ensemble to the movable sets by Mikiko Suzuki Macadams, to Sarah O’Gleby’s hootenanny clogging choreography and Sarna Lapine’s lightning fast direction, Bay Street’s version has the feel of a real country hoedown. The musical arrangements — helmed by Andy Einhorn, Shawn Gough, Erik Della Penna, and Greg Kenna — are absolutely inspired. With the orchestra upstage, masquerading as a hobo jug band on a train car, to the actors who deftly swirl around the set while playing violins, harmonicas, washboards, and guitars, this is no longer a proscenium-based whitewashed Broadway classic, but a gritty, living version of an old story infused with a new perspective.
There’s the open feel of the mountain and skies in the background. There’s the claustrophobic sense of the theater, and through the performances by leads Socha, Matthew Saldivar as Frank Butler, George Abud doing his best Adolph Green impression as Charlie, and the rest, there’s real humanity infused throughout.
Of course, you’re still dealing with a “love at first sight” fairy tale — the story of Annie Oakley is America’s “Pygmalion” — but it’s a fairy tale with a ring of truth. Most of the people really existed. Annie and Frank did get married (whether it was “a wedding in a big church with bridesmaids and flower girls,” I can’t tell you). And when Annie Oakley finally died in her 60s, Frank Butler stopped eating, and died 18 days later.
And they say that falling in love is wonderful.
There’s no question — if the Bay Street performance had taken place in the Old West, the audience would have been firing off their six-shooters in glee during the curtain calls. The run has already been extended. Whether you’ve seen the show or never have, you will walk in humming the tunes. Get your tickets before they run out and enjoy a slice of American folklore that actually sort of happened.
Tickets to “Annie Get Your Gun” are available at www.baystreet.org.