A Bad Shot

Annie Get Your Gun aims high and misses badly.

The lavish production numbers in Annie Get Your Gun are hard for any theater company to pull off. So is the script's archaic depiction of Native Americans, with character treatments and one-liners that range from mildly embarrassing to patently offensive. And if either of the show's two leading performers has an off night, Irving Berlin's folksy score (which Ethel Merman turned into a star vehicle) can lose nearly all of its appeal: Excluding reprises, Annie is involved in eleven of sixteen tunes, and her swelled-head sidekick, Frank, is responsible for carrying three more.

What the Jesters Dinner Theatre production lacks in professionalism, polish and technical wizardry, however, it occasionally makes up for in effort and determination. Led by Tara Sosna's stouthearted turn as the rifle-toting Annie Oakley, several seasoned amateurs and hopeful newcomers mosey through the musical favorite with admirable gusto. While her portrait could use more subtlety and variety, Sosna lives up to the role's vocal demands, especially during the duet "They Say It's Wonderful." She also taps into Annie's ability to "shoot an egg off a poodle's head -- without breaking the yolk," as well as her affection for the loutish Frank. Actor Chris Valcho lends some down-home charm to the role of Buffalo Bill; Lew Moore is appealing as a stodgy hotel manager and, later, a wealthy socialite; Melissa Morris, Chelsea Berthold and Tia Konsur make a precocious trio of frontier children; and Cathy Monroe, Jann Lowder, Nicole Failaicci and Heidi Kalkhorst are a fine choric quartet, playing a variety of roles with imagination and economy.

Unfortunately, the two-and-a-half-hour show also gives one the feeling that the company has bitten off more than it can chew. At a recent performance, one particularly loathsome ham made a habit of staring at the same audience member in between every line. He also sang nearly every note as loudly as possible -- an approach that, combined with his character's equally loathsome ways, proved more off-putting than endearing. In addition, a couple of performers had trouble remembering their lines while others sang off-key, and a few scenes were marred by poorly executed entrances and exits. (Adding insult to injury, the show's book writers, Herbert and Dorothy Fields, aren't listed in the program; also missing is the standard contractual blurb that gives credit to the company that owns the rights to the musical.)

Director Scott Moore might have been able to stage a tighter show had he not also taken on the additional duties of producer, scene designer and supporting actor. While it's possible that he shouldered those burdens out of pure necessity, the show winds up suffering from a lack of precision and focus. And even though the performers are clearly doing their best, many look as though they're simply going through the motions. Still, as the company delivers a reprise of the show's signature song, "There's No Business Like Show Business," it's clear that their hearts are in the right place.

 
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