Following the premiere of the intensely serious Safe Space, Bay Street Theater’s final 2019 Mainstage Season show is the world-famous Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. Director Sarna Lapine’s masterful rendition is a rib-tickling riot from start to finish, with a gifted cast at the heart of it.
The overture showcases a five-piece bluegrass Americana band led by Shawn Gough that prepares the audience for a boot-tapping good time right out of the gate and sets the production apart from those that came before it. The action begins at cranky Foster’s (Stephen Lee Anderson) Wilson Arms Hotel in Cincinnati, where Charlie (George Abud) and Mac (Davis MacLeod Haines) announce the arrival of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with “Colonel Buffalo Bill.” After the thrilling opening number, Abud’s Charlie is shown to possess a near Deadpool-level ability to break the fourth wall, directing jokes straight at the audience and scoring big laughs throughout. His comedic shenanigans are matched by his Act 2 cohort Sitting Bull (Jonathan Joss), whose stoic demeanor and dry wit often have audience members in an uproar.
The shining star of the production is none other than Annie Oakley herself, portrayed by Alexandra Socha with an intoxicating blend of endearing youthfulness and headstrong moxie that would make Ethel Merman, the role’s originator, proud. Socha’s Annie is immeasurably multifaceted, expertly portraying her hillbilly personality and matching singing style in “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” her motherly side and soothing voice in “Moonshine Lullaby” and her unbending bravado in a good many scene, culminating in “An Old Fashioned Wedding.” And her take on “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” is a sight to behold.
Matthew Saldivar as Frank Butler proved a worthy rival to Socha’s Annie. His velvety baritone had the audience swooning during his rendition of “The Girl That I Marry.” At the climax of Annie Get Your Gun, Frank and Sitting Bull switch teams in response to Annie’s epic motorcycle stunt, with Frank defecting to Pawnee Bill (Oge Agulué) and the leader of the Sioux joining team Buffalo Bill (Orville Mendoza). The love-hate rivalry between the two Bills is quite entertaining to watch, and it’s a shame Pawnee Bill doesn’t get more stage time to develop it further.
Despite the fact that the audience is in stitches throughout the entirety of the musical, it isn’t difficult to gauge which song receives the biggest laughs of all—it’s decidedly “Anything You Can Do.” The room roars with each, “Yes, I can,” be it whispered, screamed or spoken at lightning speed. Though, the theater falls to an awestruck hush as Socha belts out her entry for, “Any note you can hold, I can hold longer.” Upon releasing the note after holding it for what seems like a humanly impossible span of time, quite possibly longer than any Annie Oakley before her, the audience erupts into thunderous applause.
Jennifer Sánchez, who plays Dolly Tate, gives an impressive performance of Frank Butler’s “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” (now “He’s a Bad, Bad Man”), surprising the audience with not only the change in singer, but also a stunning voice reminiscent of Broadway and film great Vivian Blaine.
Annie Get Your Gun’s trio of child actors (Isa Mooney, Meaghan McInnes and Will Hantz) deserve a shout-out as well, for their incredible singing prowess showcased in several songs throughout the play. And the scene when Hantz’s Little Jake is trying to teach big sister Annie how to read is one of the funniest in the show.
Overall, the show is immensely lively, wildly entertaining and hilariously funny. Even if someone has seen this show done 100 different ways, Bay Street’s rendition is still a must-see.
Annie Get Your Gun has received an extended run through September 1. Tickets can be purchased at baystreet.org or by calling 631-725-9500.