UMT Season Finale Aims to Update Familiar Musical
OGDEN, Utah -When Utah Musical Theatre concludes its 2003 season with Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun," Utah audiences will get their first chance to see the modernized adaptation of this popular Broadway musical.
"Fans of the Ethel Merman production of the 1940s will no doubt notice the changes in the script and the musical numbers," said Bruce Cohen, UMT's artistic and managing director.
The new version is the result of a 1999, Broadway remount of "Annie Get Your Gun" that featured Bernadette Peters in the role of Annie Oakley.
"The producers of the 1999 production recognized that much of the material related to gender issues and depictions of Native Americans would be offensive to the sensibilities of today's audiences," said Cohen. "So, renowned librettist Peter Stone was hired to revise the script and musical numbers of the original show to make it more politically correct."
The result, said Cohen, is a production that features a tighter story with more character depth, albeit with "less of the edge or fangs of the original." Along with script edits intended to homogenize the material, offensive musical numbers were replaced with alternate tunes from the Berlin songbook, staying true to the composer's overall style, if not his original selections.
Cohen selected director Pamela Hill and choreographer Mary Tinsley, both professional freelancers based in the Midwest, to lead the UMT production. Cohen said the two women bring a female perspective to the musical's depiction of the battle of the sexes-a portrayal some modern critics have labeled as sexist.
UMT also made a conscious decision to break with typical casting for Annie, opting for an age-appropriate actress to play the lead. Kelsey Shearer, who plays Annie in the UMT production, is closer in age to the real Annie Oakley than Merman or Peters.
"In its day, this show was a star vehicle for Ethel Merman," said Cohen. "In our version, we were looking to make it more of an ensemble performance."
Cohen said that "Annie Get Your Gun" offers a snapshot into history, "like viewing an exhibit in a museum." The production company decided to further enhance that experience by having members of the cast perform specialty acts during set changes, recreating performances that would have been common sights in Buffalo Bill's traveling Wild West Show.
"Our cast has been practicing with trick whips, knife juggling, military drills and ballroom dancing demonstrations all through production," said Cohen. According to Cohen, the end result will be a distinct version of the familiar "Annie Get Your Gun."
The show opens Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Evening performances will be held August 2, 6-9, 13-16, all starting at 7:30 p.m. at Peery's Egyptian Theatre (2415 Washington Blvd) in Ogden. In addition, there will be a 2 p.m. matinee Aug. 2. Tickets cost $22 and are available at 1-800-WSU-TIKS or 801-626-8500.