Saturday, July 25, 2009

Annie Get Your Gun, Porthouse Theatre

(Left to right: Marc Moritz, Fabio Polanco, Kaycee Cummings, and Dick Reiss as Buffalo Bill)

If you’re looking for a musical evening with killer songs such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “The Girl That I Marry,” and “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning,” then you should definitely find your way out to the Porthouse Theatre. Because Kaycee Cummings and Fabio Polanco deliver those time-honored hits with solid professional assurance and life-affirming gusto.

Just remember, this is far from a perfect show. Considering it’s one of the iconic works in the American musical theater canon, Annie Get Your Gun is remarkably threadbare when it comes to interesting characters. It seems that, once Irving Berlin got done writing a gaggle of hit songs for the original Annie Oakley, Ethel Merman, there was little energy left over for anything else.

The 1946 book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields was adapted a decade ago by Peter Stone for a revival, dropping the gloriously un-PC song “I’m an Indian, Too.” But the storyline is so thin as to be almost transparent. It focuses on Ohio crack shot Annie Oakley, who joins Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, where she encounters worldwide fame, a somewhat fleeting fortune and a stud named Frank. It’s really Frank and Annie’s show since, surprisingly, there are no secondary characters that offer much more than a mild chuckle now and then.

Still, director Terri Kent does what she can with the material at hand. Much of the richness of this evening emanates from the performances of Cummings as Annie Oakley and Polanco as her sharpshootin’ rival and main squeeze Frank Butler.

Cummings channels more of Reba McIntyre than either Merman or Bernadette Peters (to note three of the more famous Annies in the past), as she swaggers and struts through her paces. She toggles nicely between tough girl (“You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun”) and gob-smacked romantic (“I Got Lost in his Arms”). And if she had just a bit more easy-going fun with Frank during their flirting forays, her characterization would be approaching perfection.

Polanco is not your typical leading man, with his semi-swarthy look and bald head, but he oozes testosterone with every step and glance. And when he opens his mouth to sing, you feel privileged to just be within earshot. He rounds out the phrasing of “The Girl That I Marry” with delicate precision, and plays fine counterpoint during the dueling rounds of “An Old Fashioned Wedding.”

Among those relegated to handling the underwritten supporting roles, Robert Ellis gets some laughs as Sitting Bull and Marc Moritz plays rodeo agent Charlie Davenport with wry offhandedness. The usually wonderful MaryAnn Black seems a bit lost as nasty Dolly Tate, unsure how much of her take-no-prisoners cuteness she should unleash on this character.

The young ensemble handles their duties well and, even with a few eminently forgettable tunes, this Annie hits the target more often than not.

Annie Get Your Gun
Through August 9 at the
Porthouse Theatre, Blossom
Music Center, 1145 W. Steels Corners
Road, Cuyahoga Falls, 330-929-4416

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