Union Theatre, London – until 19 June 2017
This is a difficult one. I really like Annie Get Your Gun but the 1946 original was butchered in 1999 for a US revival with Bernadette Peters and most references to ‘Injuns’ excised to suit PC sensibilities, losing a couple of good songs. Being about both show business and the Wild West, it sits neatly midway between Oklahoma! and Gypsy with a rich Irving Berlin score hand-tooled for the leather lungs of Ethel Merman.
Despite being vintage enough to be performed as a ‘period piece’, it was re-framed by the book writer of Curtains and Titanic, Peter Stone, in a rare bout of misjudgement as a play-within-a-play by a group of travelling sideshow performers. Annie’s adoption into the Sioux by Big Chief Sitting Bull is cut from the piece, there’s a ghastly entr’acte puppet show illustrating their European tour, and worst of all – Annie’s final shooting match with Frank Butler, which she deliberately throws to win her man, is changed to a draw.
None of this would matter if it weren’t for the iron fist of R&H Musicals who own the copyright insisting no variations are allowed, and some odd choices by current director Kirk Jameson like Sitting Bull being played by the young actor who also impersonates Annie’s baby brother, or having her tote a wooden cut-out of a rifle instead of wielding a Remington replica.
The rifle thing reminds me of the dreadful Annie Get Your Gun further down this same road, at the Young Vic in 2009 when not only did the Remington seem bigger than Jane Horrocks, the entire production directed by opera buff Richard Jones was sandwiched into a thin slit stage between aluminium siding like a letter box, but at least they seemed to keep to the original plot.
Apart from a dodgy first musical entrance which I attribute more to the poor cueing of the MD and his disinterested band – Gemma McLean made a reasonable job of Annie, but her lack of chemistry with Blair Robertson‘s prosaic Frank Butler made me yearn for the acoustically sung, rudimentarily-set Carousel with Gemma Sutton and Tim Rogers at the Arcola, a much finer example of chamber-sizing a grand-scale musical.
Finally, it really should be called Annie Get Your Fan because the overheated atmosphere of the Union is simply unbearable: even on a cool February evening it cooks you like a Gregg’s pasty. Bad enough in an old building, inexcusable in a new build.
Three stars, minus one for giving us heat exhaustion.