The only child of two performers, Broadway actress Alexandra Socha felt the yearning for the stage at a very young age. “I think it’s in my genetics—I really do,” she says. Now, she’s bringing her innate talent to Bay Street Theater for a new rendition of the classic musical Annie Get Your Gun, known for Broadway standards including “Anything You Can Do” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Socha performed in her first community theater production with her mother at age 5 and joined the Peacock Players of Nashua. She made her Broadway debut as a teenager in Spring Awakening and has since appeared in a number of shows on and Off-Broadway, including Actually, Fun Home and, most recently, Head Over Heels. In addition to her theater roles, she was a series regular on Red Oaks and has recurred on Royal Pains, The Big C and Damages.
For her Bay Street Theater debut, she’ll portray Annie Oakley, the real-life teenage sharpshooter who bested marksman Frank Butler in a shooting match and later brought her talents to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. While the plot of Annie Get Your Gun, written by Dorothy Fields with music by Irving Berlin, is based on Oakley’s story, it largely deviates from its source material, adding more romance, drama and sho-tunes and changing the way certain events play out.
Oakley was originally portrayed by the legendary Ethel Merman in 1946, when she was 38 years old. Socha is considerably younger at 29, which gives her a fresh perspective when becoming this historic character. “While she might be a teenager in age, I don’t think, in spirit or behavior, she feels at all childish, because no part of her has actually gotten to be a child,” she explains. “She’s been working to feed her family since she was a very young kid, so she had to give up her childish ways very early on.”
While the play notoriously reverses Oakley’s victory against Butler, opting instead for her to forfeit the match to spare his ego and win his heart, Socha has a unique insight into the reasoning behind this historical fiction. “[My grandmother] went to college back in the ’40s and met my grandfather there. They fell in love and were both running for president of the politics club, and she tells the story of how he won by one vote, which was her vote,” she retells. “My grandmother was really strong, quietly strong, and my grandfather was an amazing man, but his ego could get bruised much more easily. I look at that moment as my grandmother going, ‘You know what, I’m fine. He needs this more than I need it…I want to be with you, and it doesn’t mean I’ll give myself up forever, but let me show you that I actually don’t care about being better than you.” She adds, “I don’t see that action of voting for my grandfather as a sign of weakness; I see it as a sign of strength in her time and her circumstances.”
Director Sarna Lapine’s Bay Street rendition of Annie Get Your Gun works off the 1946 and 1966 scripts, and she’s tweaked the story slightly to make it clear that Butler (Matt Saldivar) and Oakley must both forgo their egos for love. Another change lies with the musical’s offensive portrayal of the Native American Sitting Bull, now cast with Parks and Recreation’s Jonathan Joss. His dialogue has been adjusted to no longer sound like a stereotype, and Oakley’s song “I’m an Indian, Too” got the boot. Despite script updates and a bluegrass Americana orchestration style, Socha is confident that “no one is going to feel like they’re not watching Annie Get Your Gun—they’ll know what they’re seeing.”
See the iconic musical at Bay Street Theater from July 30–August 25. For tickets, visit baystreet.org.