Annie Get Your Gun serves up comforting corn

It’s hard not to think of Annie Get Your Gun as the grinning materfamilias of modern Broadway. Even if you’ve never seen the musical — which follows sharpshooter Annie Oakley on her rise through the ranks of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show — you’ve almost certainly heard the tunes. The score, by composer Irving Berlin, is full of cozy, uptempo toetappers (“There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Anything You Can Do”) with earworm hooks, comic beats and enough sincerity to semi-permanently baffle a teenager.

The production at Musical Theater Heritage is also full of unsettlingly talented children. I’m about as maternal as the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but even I got a bit misty when the pistol-sized Delilah Pellow (as Annie Oakley’s brother, Little Jake) stepped forward to belt the show’s opening bars. Pellow is a stronger performer at 8 than I was by the end of my theater degree. Her older sister Josephine — who starred in the Coterie’s Miracle Worker last year — is no less affecting as Nellie. There’s something in the water at the Pellow house, and I want it bottled.

Fortunately, director Sarah Crawford has found an adult cast that can compete. Daniel Boothe (as Charlie Davenport) stands out among the supporting players, with sharp comic timing and a Patton Oswalt lilt. Jim Korinke makes a sly, elastic-mouthed Buffalo Bill, and Phil blue owl Hooser effectively threads the needle between archetype and stereotype as Annie’s shrewd father figure, Sitting Bull. (Peter Stone, who revised the book for the 1999 Broadway revival, has spared us some of the show’s more overtly racist sentiments.) Andrea Boswell-Burns is a fierce presence as Annie’s rival, the meddling and bigoted Dolly Tate. And Sam Wright is charming as sharpshooter Frank Butler.

Annie Get Your Gun was written as a showcase for Ethel Merman, and the musical is accordingly taxing on its lead. But Shelby Floyd is perfectly cast as Annie Oakley, turning the brass up to 11 and setting phrases to stun. Annie’s tunes seem ideally suited to Floyd’s range — from the full-throated “Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” to the gently loping “Moonshine Lullaby.” I’m still rooting for Floyd to play more with the latter, but with great belt comes great responsibility.

Many of Berlin’s songs are short as puns — and, like puns, not always palatable. “Who Do You Love, I Hope” has aged like an open box of Franzia, its metronomic bounce more cloying than cute. Still, singers Maggie Marx and Joseph Carr (as the young lovers Winnie Tate and Tommy Keeler) mug gamely through it.
And Stone’s revisions to the 1946 book, written by Dorothy and Herbert Fields, keep songs like “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” from feeling too dated. (In the original, the finale plays like a frontier Grease.) The result is a comforting slice of musical Americana — and MTH makes a compelling argument for its staying power.

Categories: A&E, Stage