Annie Get Your Gun, which opened tonight and runs through December 18 at The Shedd in Eugene, isn’t the most problematic old musical out there when it comes time for a 21st century revival in these days of cultural sensitivity.
But it’s not the easiest, either, mostly on account of the stereotypical way it presents native Americans in telling the stylized story of the real life Annie Oakley and her romance with sharpshooter Frank Butler amid William Cody’s spectacular Wild West show, which captivated much of the western world as the 19th century drew to a close.
The production at The Shedd doesn’t dance around the foibles of the script. In fact, this show, directed by Ron Daum, harks back to the original 1946 version, with book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. One song has been cut — “I’m an Indian, Too” — but for the most part the musical barrels right ahead, including passages that make you wince.
That’s mostly OK. The core story here is a feminist fairytale about Annie’s struggles to find true romance with Frank without, ahem, upstaging him. That’s a story we’re comfortable with, and it gives us such wonderful nuggets as “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and “Anything You Can Do,” which are performed to near perfection by Shirley Andress in the strongest performance I’ve seen her give. Andress is tough, cute and winsome by turns as she sings her heart out about the difficulty of romancing a man who doesn’t shoot as good as she does but thinks he can.
Matt Musgrove is also strong as Frank, whose masculine charms cause the entire female dance ensemble to swoon at various times in the show.
The cultural trouble, of course, comes from the show’s depiction of Indians, and they are as stereotyped here as it’s possible to be. Just one or two nods to the 21st century — a line about Standing Rock, say?– might have helped, but instead the show grinds right ahead, oblivious, even though George Comstock did a presentable job as the stereotypically wise old Chief Sitting Bull, who gives Annie paternal advice.
This is all in the realm of cultural misdemeanor, though. Nothing here is bad-hearted, and the show itself has enough energy to carry us comfortably through its three-hour run time (including two intermissions).
Caitlin Christopher’s choreography is nicely done throughout, and the set, by Janet Whitlow, is simple and elegant, with a few delightful surprises.
The orchestra, conducted by Robert Ashens, was muddy as the play opened tonight, and then appeared to miss some sound cues later in the show.