Mids eager for this shot

'Annie Get Your Gun' performances start at the end of the month

February 14, 2010|By Mary Johnson | Special to The Baltimore Sun

Well along in rehearsal at the Naval Academy's Mahan Hall, the cast of "Annie Get Your Gun" seemed ideally suited to American composer Irving Berlin's musical story of American heroine Annie Oakley.

At a recent rehearsal, cast members leaped from their seats onto the stage when the music director summoned them for the opening number, "There's No Business Like Show Business." Berlin would have been pleased by these enthusiastic midshipmen - few of whom were even born at the time of his death in 1989 at age 101.

A World War I veteran who toured with servicemen during World War II, Berlin wrote "Annie Get Your Gun" shortly after returning from the war.

The musical tells the story of sharpshooting country girl Annie Oakley, who joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and became world-famous for her marksmanship, defeating vaudevillian/sharpshooter Frank Butler in competition.

If all three of the characters are legends, so is composer Berlin, whom fellow composer Jerome Kern once described as having "no place in American music - Berlin IS American music."

The composer of "White Christmas" and "God Bless America" wrote some of his best songs for what became his biggest show. Opening on Broadway in 1946, "Annie Get Your Gun" introduced such now-standards as the opening number, as well as "Doin' What Comes Naturally," "They Say It's Wonderful" and "Anything You Can Do."

A more upbeat slice of Americana could hardly be imagined for the Naval Academy cast, who clearly respect music director Monte Maxwell, now in his 14th year as music department chairman, and director Lars Tatom, coordinator of theater at Anne Arundel Community College and serving his first Academy directing stint.

In the male lead is Sam Strelkoff, whose stage presence and smooth baritone results from childhood experience singing in choruses and growing up enjoying musical theater. After auditioning for this show in the fall and starting rehearsals weeks before the winter holiday break, Strelkoff discovered in mid-January that he'd been selected for the leading male role.

"In his own way, Frank Butler is a gentleman who cares about Annie," Strelkoff said. "Frank is a big guy who has to be played big. He goes from saying he'd 'never shoot against a girl' to accepting Annie for who she is, and admiring her."

Cast in the title role, junior Lilly Powers rehearsed a scene where Annie envisions how she'll capture Frank Butler's attention. Her natural elegance, easy humor and assuredness onstage are a perfect match for Annie's requisite feisty self-confidence.

"Annie is insecure about love and has never known what love is," Powers said. "She knows about responsibility. She took care of three little sisters and has been shooting since she was 10."

Anyone playing Annie needs tremendous vocal stamina, and despite the large number of songs she is required to sing, Powers said, "I tend not to hold back in rehearsal."

Junior Stephanie Wexler, previously seen as the Witch in last year's musical "Into the Woods," plays Dolly Tate, Butler's assistant and Annie's would-be rival.

Wexler said she enjoys playing "the more traditional girl."

This "Annie" will be the revised 1999 Broadway version, which is less sexist and more sensitive to American Indians.

If you go
Performances are at 8 p.m. Feb. 26 and 27 and March 5, 6 and 7; and at 3 p.m. Feb. 28. Tickets are $15-$18 and can be ordered at 410-293-8497. For more information call 410-293-2439.

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