F eeling the stir of rivalry, a cowboy and cowgirl boast to each other:
“I can shoot a partridge, with a single cartridge.”
“I can get a sparrow, with a bow and arrow.”
Yes, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler are both sharpshooters. But who is better? Frank is so arrogant, no doubt you’ll root for Annie to reign supreme. But this musical is “Annie Get Your Gun,” and the pair will fall so much in love each of them will deliberately try to lose to each other in a shooting match.
That’s how things turn out in this updated version of the Irving Berlin musical, said Mike Wawrzynek, who is directing the show this weekend through June 30 at Theatre at the Grove in Nuangola.
Earlier versions of the musical had Annie deliberately lose to Frank, in keeping with the stereotypical practice of females losing to males on purpose in everything from spelling bees to tennis matches.
“In the original, (other characters) basically advised her not to shoot as well so she would not get Frank upset,” said cast member Paul Winarski. “But in this version, which was updated in 1999, Frank catches on that she’s doing it, and he deliberately misses, too. They try to outdo each other with missing.
“In the older version, it was slightly misogynistic to have Annie throw the whole thing,” said Winarski, who portrays Sitting Bull. “This modern version is a nice touch.”
The show is “one of those good, old, classic American musicals that the whole family will enjoy,” director Wawrzynek said. “It’s very circus-like. We have a big-top tent up on stage.”
Families will enjoy the pageantry of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which is the setting for Annie and Frank to get to know each other. They’ll also enjoy the way Amanda Reese and Christopher LaFrance work together.
“Their chemistry is great,” the director said. “It’s either very intense romantically or very comical because they play off each other all the time.”
When the audience first sees Annie, Wawrzynek said, “She’s very dirty. She’s a backwoods person, wearing ragged clothes with furs hanging off her.”
Annie hunts to feed her younger siblings, and she seems to be tomboy through and through.
Ah, but as Frank tells her, “The girl that I marry will have to be, as soft and as pink as a nursery … She’ll wear satin and laces and smell of cologne.”
Annie may become more polished and and stylish as the play progresses, Wawrzynek said, but in the end “She goes back to her roots. She was trying to change for someone, and you shouldn’t do that.”
The show is a fictionalized account of the lives of some real people. “In real life, Annie and Frank had already been married when they joined Buffalo Bill’s show,” Winarski said. “Sitting Bull did tour with the show, and they paid him $50 a week to make a two-minute pass around the crowd and wave, so people could see ‘the man who killed Custer.’ “
The real Annie Oakley died in the 1920s, and, apparently heartbroken, Frank died about two weeks later. They had been married for 50 years.