Annie done got her gun and captures stage at Spreckels
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By Jud Snyder

Every theatergoer knows the basic romantic comedy plot. You know, Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl fight and are separated, Boy and Girl meet again and they fall in love again, Boy and Girl clinch, kiss and cry for forgiveness. Cue curtain. Generations of audiences are squeezingly fond of this format.

It’s been around since Aristophanes, circa 360 BC. Centuries later, Shakespeare used it in plays like “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest.”  It’s also the basic plot line of “Annie Get Your Gun,” now on the big stage this weekend at Spreckels Performing Arts Center.

But wait a minute. This Annie Oakley production has music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, with the book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. All three are Broadway idols. Berlin belongs to the Golden Age of popular songs right among the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen and Frank Loesser. And we can’t leave out Busby Berkeley. Hollywood’s overwrought dance master.

Nostalgia’s too fragile a word to label “Annie.” Director Sheri Lee Miller has built a rock ‘em, sock ‘em musical that’s in your face like a warm pizza. She has a huge cast to firmly shape the musical comedy.

Denise Elia-Yen (all of five feet and maybe two inches tall) plays Annie Oakley. Her maybe yes, maybe no protagonist, Frank Butler, is played by  Zachary Hasbany, a senior at SSU, who stands 6-feet-7. The physical contrast between the two is a delightful touch. It adds a vivid exclamation point to the rifle shooting competition and their amorous, never-ending, off-and-on memory-laden relationship.

We get the difference when Butler rolls out an expensive, big colorful sign for his shooting lectern, and Annie replies with her sign – a well-used burlap fertilizer bag. 

The superb supporting cast is led by Dwayne Stincelli, who’s been acting on North Bay stages before Spreckels theater was built. Stincelli has the role of Buffalo Bill Cody, all swagger and leather fringes, and Dan Monez plays a wise Chief Sitting Bull, who’s all wisdom and is keenly aware of the pseudo “goodwill” of the white man.

Annie has her own trio of sparkling supporters, a young trio of sisters and brother (youngest girl is only seven).

Everybody in the large cast are also talented singers and dancers, thanks to music director Janis Wilson and choreographer Michella Snider. Pamela Enz’s costume designs are in tune with period. Down front is the heard but unseen well-cued pit band, led by Wilson. 

You know the music. “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “I Get the Sun in the Morning,” plus several more Berlin tunes. We could hear the audience humming and singing them as they exited.

“Annie Get Your Gun” was made into a movie starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel in 1950, it’s been revived several times on Broadway, and road companies since then have made it a reliable revival nationwide. We can thank Spreckels’ artistic director Gene Abravaya for bringing it to RP. By the way, Abravaya’s own play, “The Book of Matthew” opens March 21 at Spreckels.

“Annie” will have its final shows Thursday Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday Feb. 21 and 22, at 8 p.m., and a Sunday Feb. 23 matinee at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $26 and $24, less for children (it’s a good show for youngsters). 

Call the Spreckels box office from noon-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 588-3400 for reservations or hope for the best one hour before curtain times.

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