The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 14, 2008


Savoyards open Annie Get Your Gun tonight

Chuck Holleman as Buffalo Bill Cody sings to his new star performer, Shana Dirik as Annie Oakley, in the Savoyards’ production. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

The Savoyard Light Opera Company (SLOC) has an uncanny talent for taking the oldest of old chestnuts and giving them new and vigorous life. They are doing exactly that with Annie Get Your Gun this weekend and next in Corey Auditorium.

This musical comedy was written in 1945 as a vehicle for the legendary Ethel Merman by Herbert and Dorothy Fields with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, and produced by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II on Broadway in 1946. It is based on the meeting and subsequent marriage of the legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley (née Phoebe Ann Mosey) to the Irish marksman Frank Butler and their performances in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show in the mid-1880s.

A string of Irving Berlin blockbuster hits tumble one after another out of this musical. The showstopping production number, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” which opens the show, became Ethel Merman’s theme song as well as the theme song of American musical theater. It also sets the stage in Annie Get Your Gun for a rip-roarin,’ high-steppin,’ rootin’-tootin’ old west extravaganza that gives the audience 100% from beginning to end.

A perfectly matched pair

Sixty-two years after it opened on Broadway, Annie Get Your Gun requires the talents of an actress with the energy of a force of nature and a voice to match. Merman, who reportedly never used a microphone, created a legendary role, and has always been a tough act to follow.

In the hands of the SLOC’s Shana Dirik of Acton, however, Annie is every bit as dynamic and vibrant as her creator could wish. Dirik is unstoppable, and has the spunk and energy of two Reba McEntires. Her timing is impeccable, and her voice moves seamlessly from the Broadway belt of the ribald “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” to the quieter, but still sassy “Moonshine Lullaby” and the lovely and timeless ballad, “They Say It’s Wonderful.” Dirik is magical: a delight in every scene, and she has crafted an Annie Oakley that will bring the house down.

Honey-voiced John Alzapiedi of Hudson is Frank Butler, the perfect foil for Dirik’s hillbilly Oakley. He acts the star womanizer until he finds himself truly in love with a woman who is nothing like the one in his song, “The Girl That I Marry.” Alzapiedi’s voice is easy listening, and, when Butler’s career prospects begin to falter as Oakley’s begin to rise, he delivers just the right amount of resentment and bluster to counteract her naïve delight in her newfound celebrity.

Carlislean plays Buffalo Bill

The part of Buffalo Bill is played by Carlisle’s Chuck Holleman. He opens the show with a bang, belting out There’s No Business Like Show Business. Every bit the impresario, he will have the audience tapping their toes and cheering right from the outset.

Another face familiar to Carlisle SLOC fans is Donna DeWitt of Chelmsford, as the villainess Dolly Tate. DeWitt has a powerful musical theater presence and a voice to match.

HIGH FASHION HAT. Donna DeWitt, of Chelmsford, sports a hat that might have been fashionable in the 1880s as she portrays Dolly Tate in Annie Get Your Gun in the Savoyard production in Corey Auditorium. Little does she know that sharpshooter Annie Oakley is getting a bead on her bird. See the results this weekend. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

SLOC performs updated version

This production is the 1999 revision by Peter Stone. For the 1999 Broadway revival, Stone attempted to deal with the original show’s insensitivities to Native Americans that were acceptable in 1946 but no longer viable by 1999, omitting musical numbers and some dialogue that today’s audiences would find offensive. Stone replaced this material with two new characters, Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate, whose subplot deals with prejudice lightly but pointedly.

Chief Sitting Bull, played by Westford’s Bill Hoermann, is another matter. The historical Sitting Bull was a tragic figure, but his character is presented in Annie Get Your Gun without significant attention to history. In the original version, he is a ridiculous and embarrassing character, “how”-ing and “ugh”-ing his way through the show. Although Stone’s revision does clean up some of the more demeaning aspects of the portrayal, Sitting Bull is represented as a wealthy landowner who cannot farm his land because nothing will grow on it; it is too saturated with oil. When Buffalo Bill and his company try to get the chief to invest in their show, he resists them as a bad investment until he sees Annie Oakley shoot and realizes that with her, the venture will be a success. He adopts her as a daughter and becomes an affectionate father figure to the unsophisticated Annie.

More Carlisle actors

In addition to the four major characters, who are based on historical figures, there are several key supporting roles. Most notable are Annie’s kid sisters and little brother, played by Johnny Kilcoyne of Acton (Little Jake), Isabelle Vernalia of Westford (Nellie), and Carlisle’s Katherine Bishop (Jessie), who are integral to the character of Annie Oakley. All three are accomplished young actors and dancers and sing with appealing sweetness and spirit in “Moonshine Lullaby” and as Annie’s backup group in “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly.”

This production is sprinkled with a number of other Carlisle performers as well. Young Reilly Harring makes her debut in the children’s ensemble; Katherine Bishop’s mother Liz and new resident Linda St. Francis are part of the adult ensemble, which, as always, makes a great sound. SLOC veteran and board member Phil Drew serves as producer and stage manager, Bill Cooney is ticket manager, Scott Henderson and Sharon Ravan return as technical directors and riggers, and Susie Schmidt continues her decade-long post of costume designer and creator.

Performance information

Performances are scheduled for November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and November 16 and 23 at 2 p.m. in Corey Auditorium at the Carlisle Public School. Ticket information is available and ticket orders may be placed at or by calling 1-978-371 SLOC (7562).

The SLOC production of Annie Get Your Gun is sparkling proof that there really is no business like show business. So, let’s go, on with the show! ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito