Originally staged on Broadway in 1946 with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, Annie Get Your Gun is based on the real-life story of sharp shooting legend Annie Oakley. Annie travelled the world with her husband and fellow marksman Frank E Butler in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West tour during the 1880s and such was their popularity, at the height of their stardom, they performed in front of the likes of Queen Victoria and the King of Italy amongst others.
Choosing this undeniably old-fashioned musical as the first production to grace the new open-air Lavender Theatre might seem a rather staid choice but instead this intimate, energetic production is a wow! Setting the musical outdoors and open to the elements, it replicates how Buffalo Bill’s show would have been performed. Banish any memories of cringingly twee amateur dramatic versions you might have endured in the past. Director and choreographer Simon Hardwick has successfully created a dexterous and inventive show which feels traditional enough whilst also delivering a knowing modern sensibility.
The story itself feels more current that a lot of musicals of that era. The character of Annie is a strong independent woman who knows her own mind and therefore isn’t required to change or have a transformative makeover in order to get her man. As such, SuRie, of 2018 Eurovision fame (the one with the unfortunate stage invasion), is wonderfully cast as Annie. She is kooky, characterful, witty and has great comic timing. It’s a role which could be an annoying gurning carricature, however SuRie manages to strip that back to make Annie someone who you root for, especially when she shows her vulnerable side beneath the bravado.
Vocally, SuRie shines throughout, managing to draw emotions out of songs that you never knew were there. Her range is exquisite. From a suitably sassy belt in You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun to a luscious soft jazz-tinged purr on Moonshine Lullaby, SuRie is a revelation. She has this performer’s intelligence to know exactly when to let the schtick of the role drop and convey Annie’s inner feelings to powerful effect. Somehow, in a blowy outdoor setting, she manages to unfold genuine emotion and tenderness in an affecting I Got Lost in his Arms. In her time, the real Annie Oakley became a Wild West superstar. With this production, SuRie has marked herself as an undoubted West End superstar of the future.
The dashing Charlie McCullagh as Annie’s on-off love interest Frank Butler has the required arrogant charisma and swagger of a showman, strutting around the stage as if he owns it. Yet he also successfully portrays a softer, more vulnerable side to the character, lending credibility that he is someone Annie can fall in love with. His duets with SuRie are a dream, their superb vocal harmonies revealing their delicate feelings for one another underneath their rough-and-ready rivalry. The pair bring a grounded warmth to the schmaltzy “They say It’s Wonderful” and also great chemistry in comedic numbers such as “Anything You Can Do” and “Old Fashioned Wedding, ably showcasing their vocal range and acting skills.
The hard-work and joyous ensemble are equally first class, with great vocals, harmonies and dancing that wouldn’t shame any hoedown. Special mention should go to the actors playing the show’s juvenile leads. Playing the devoted but young lovers, Nina Bell as Winnie has a purity of voice that befits her name and Joseph Vella, bursting with talent, as Tommy has a magnetic stage presence and dance moves to match! Together they imbue the thankless twee teen romance with an engaging cheekiness.
The stage design and props are suitably weathered in appearance and the stage craft involving ladders, which double as the railing of a ship and also as props for an impressive, high-risk shooting trick by Annie, all add to the authenticity of this barn-storming and thoroughly entertaining show.
Park your wagons at Surrey’s most aromatic theatre and catch this grin-inducing revival of Annie Get Your Gun while you can!
This one hits the bullseye and no mistake – ★★★★★ 5 stars