This week from Feb. 13 to 17, the Meredith College Theatre will present Annie Get Your Gun, written by playwrights Herbert and Dorothy Fields with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Annie Get Your Gun is a musical that focuses on the life and legacy of Annie Oakley, a champion female sharpshooter and a star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which toured all around the United States and Europe. Annie Oakley was born in Darke County, Ohio on Aug. 13, 1860. Her childhood was marked by the death of her father when she was six years old and by her family’s financial struggles. At the young age of 15, Annie was able to pay the mortgage on her mother’s house by using her father’s old Kentucky rifle to hunt animals, which she then sold to a local grocery store. Annie’s tenacity and sharp skills did not go unnoticed by the public as she gained fame for her aim. Another prominent sharpshooter, Frank Butler, also became entranced by her skills and eventually became her husband.
Annie went on to have a stellar career as her presence and exquisite shooting skills earned her the position of star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Annie drew large crowds and wowed thousands with her markswoman skills, surpassing even those of her love, Frank Butler. Annie has been the focus of many adaptations due to her incredible legacy, including Annie Get Your Gun, which was first adapted into a Broadway musical in 1946. The musical had a long run, ending with an astounding 1,147 performances. The show was an absolute hit and is still attracting audiences today with many revivals of the Broadway show. Meredith College Theatre has chosen to adapt the 1999 version of the musical, especially due to the political incorrectness of the original. According to Professor Cathy Rodgers, liberties were taken in the story, as historically Annie Oakley and Frank Butler fell in love soon after their first shooting competition, whereas the musical focuses on the adversity between the two characters as Frank struggles with the idea of Annie being a better sharpshooter than him.
Annie Get Your Gun as shown here at Meredith is a fun ride that showcases stunning scenes and musical numbers. The show’s set and lighting design transports the audience to the Wild West and makes one feel like a spectator at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The cast puts forth a consistently lively and engaging performance, and, luckily, the ensemble’s often-clumsy dancing perfectly suits the scruffy personality of the ragtag players. Not one moment is boring, as humor is interlaced with the realistic dilemma Annie is met with throughout the show: living up to her label of best sharpshooter in the world or letting the title go to please the prideful Frank that refuses to lose to a girl. Professor Cathy Rodgers says about the show, it “is in essence a celebration of an extraordinary woman and her marksmanship, but is also an acknowledgement of the enduring love between two people.”
Anna Brescia, who plays Annie Oakley, has a voice as delightful as the songs of the birds Annie shoots out of the sky, and spunky solos as deserving of praise as Annie’s sharpshooting. Brescia’s performance is complimented by Aydan Hansen, who plays her opponent-turned-love interest, Frank Butler; but just as Brescia can hold her own spotlight with grace and ease, Annie Oakley does not need Frank to shine, contrary to much of the show’s narrative. Though Annie successfully proves to sexist hecklers that girls really can shoot guns, and nobly rebuffs Dolly’s (played by Hannah Johns, ‘19) blatant racism, her character still follows the trope of too many a fairytale: she can’t be happy without winning over a man, no matter how much she has to change herself to do so. “You can’t get a man with a gun,” she laments; though, more accurately, she can’t get a misogynist by being herself. Frank Butler ultimately comes around, finally deciding that his masculinity isn’t quite too weak to put up with a wife more talented than him, and the two walk off into the sunset together. Though perhaps a storyline too misleading for younger girls, the example Annie Oakley sets can likely be smugly chewed and swallowed by a Strong Meredith woman.
Silky-voiced Jacob Sen plays Tommy, whose clothes, hair, poverty, simplicity and mere existence are subject to many an unfortunate joke against Native Americans. The show’s racist remarks and culturally appropriative dress are much a product of both the time in which was written and the time in which it is set. Fortunately, most of the racism is met with criticism from the more honorable characters in the show, and the one all-Native American character, Sitting Bull, is portrayed accurately and respectfully by actor James Poslusny—lacking both the redface and the song “I’m an Injun Too” that caused protests at the original 1946 musical.
The musical is directed by Cathy Rodgers, Professor of Theatre. Leslie Castro, ‘19, is the show's assistant director. Meredith’s 25-piece orchestra, including members of the community, plays the live score. Annie Get Your Gun will be presented by Meredith College Theatre from Feb. 13-17 at 7:30 p.m. and on Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. in Jones Auditorium.
By Yajaira Ramos-Ramirez, Staff Writer, and Mimi Mays, Associate Editor