ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, Shubert Theatre. “Irving Berlin is American popular music,” composer Jerome Kern once proclaimed. When Kern died of a cerebral hemorrhage while preparing to write the songs for a musical about Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, the sharpshooting stars of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Berlin was hired as his replacement. Berlin’s catchy, funny score for Annie Get Your Gun is a classic. But the script by Herbert and Dorothy Fields is more than a little dated, especially in its burlesque portrayal of women and Native Americans. So one can’t blame producers Barry and Fran Weissler for hiring Peter Stone to pen their “revisal” of the 1946 show.
One can, however, fault them for settling for the hackwork Stone delivered. Politically incorrect groaners have been replaced by crude updates–for instance, the semiliterate Annie mispronounces “society” as “so-shitty.” Worse, director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun’s busy yet strangely lifeless staging undermines Berlin’s witty lyrics with unnecessary activity, often turning solos into cluttered and coarsened choral numbers.
Annie’s played by the competent but uncharismatic Marilu Henner, whose voice acquires a metallic quality whenever she belts–which may be why she delivers romantic ballads like “They Say It’s Wonderful” in a soft, simpering manner rather than forcefully, as Berlin intended. Rex Smith’s cocky, country-western Frank is refreshing at first but grows tiresome. The supporting players come off better, especially Claci Miller and Eric Sciotto as the show’s cute secondary couple, a white girl and her half-Indian boyfriend. But this Annie has no business in show business.