Issaquah's Village Theatre has chosen the tuneful favorite "Annie Get Your Gun" for its holiday season show, with original book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields and music by the venerable Irving Berlin. Peter Stone's 1999 Broadway revival gently updated the script for modern audiences, removing most of the politically incorrect elements of 1946, and this is the version currently in residence on the Village Mainstage. Director Steve Tomkins and his production team have pulled out all the stops to create a dazzling spectacle that can't help but please and delight.
Based loosely on real-life sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, the curtain rises on Wild West Show manager Buffalo Bill (embodied to perfection by Hugh Hastings) who, together with the cast, extols the virtues of being an entertainer in the iconic opening number "There's No Business Like Show Business." In it, we are introduced to all the principal and lead characters (save Annie and her siblings) in a colorful parade of dance and acrobatics. From there, the romance of Annie and Frank unfolds before our eyes.
As Annie Oakley, Vicki Noon delivers a bravura performance. I had the pleasure of seeing her in the Village Originals Festival of New Works this past August in the title role of "Lizzie Borden," a four-woman rock musical in which she tendered another powerhouse performance. Based on that show (and the fact that she was fresh from playing Elphaba in the 2nd national tour of "Wicked"), I was greatly anticipating "Annie Get Your Gun." I'm not surprised to say my expectations were surpassed on opening night. As Oakley, Noon is humorously crass, endearingly determined, romantically vulnerable and possessed of a voice that illuminates every last note of the Berlin score; from the comic confessions of "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun" to the wistful introspection of "I Got Lost In His Arms," she is pure gold, and a casting coup for Tomkins.
As Frank Butler, Dane Stokinger is a handsome counterpart and the epitome of cowboy swagger, but I would have welcomed a bit more roguishness in his characterization. A killer smile that dissolves the women in a devil-may-care swoon would have helped greatly in the number "I'm A Bad, Bad Man" and also as an explanation for Annie's instant attraction to him. Vocally, he is polished and engaging, though a trifle on the pop side for this classic Broadway musical. His best work is opposite his co-star in the numbers "They Say It's Wonderful" and "Anything You Can Do."
As supporting romantic leads Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate, Gabriel Corey and Taylor Niemeyer are charming as they try to outsmart older sister Dolly Tate, played with meddlesome glee by Kathryn Van meter. Corey and Niemeyer shine on the duets "I'll Share It All With You" and "Who Do You Love, I Hope?"
Providing further comic support (as if more were needed!) are Annie's three young siblings Nellie (Maggie Barry), Jessie (Analiese Emerson Guettinger) and Little Jake (Josh Feinsilber), who are all adorable in the numbers "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" and "Moonshine Lullaby." Johnny Patchamatla is stoically amusing as Chief Sitting Bull, getting one of the shows bigger laughs while on a boat in the second act, and Casey Raiha is appropriately officious and mildly conniving as business manager Charlie Davenport.
The ensemble is an illustrious roll-call of Seattle talent with notable performances by Casey Craig, Will Halsey and Jon Lutyens who provide vocal backup aboard a train, Adam Somers leading an Indian hoop dance, and the four lovely ladies singing backup on "I'm A Bad, Bad Man" (unfortunately not identified in the program). And if that's not enough to entice you to see the show, the production values across the board are stellar; sparkling choreography by Steve Tomkins and Kristin Culp; expert musical direction by R.J. Tancioco; impressive(!) scene design by Bill Forrester (particularly the Act II hotel soiree in New York); stunning costume design by Karen Ann Ledger (Frank and Annie's finale costumes come readily to mind) and superb lighting and sound design by Aaron Copp and Brent Warwick.