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VOL. 125 | NO. 168 | Monday, August 30, 2010

‘Annie Get Your Gun’ Production Hits Target

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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Kirie Walz stars as Annie Oakley in the Theatre Memphis production of "Annie Get Your Gun" through Sept. 12.

Photo: Courtesy of Skip Hooper

They say in theater that there are no small parts, just small actors. But Theatre Memphis’s season opener shows strength and professionalism in large and small roles alike.

Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” running through Sept.12, hits several bull’s-eyes on the theater’s Lohrey Stage.

“Annie Get Your Gun” is the fictionalized and highly entertaining story of the romance between gunslingers Annie Oakley and Frank Butler.

The show takes audiences on a winding tour of an ill-conceived relationship between Butler, the womanizing star of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, and Oakley, an illiterate sharpshooter and surrogate mother to five young siblings.

Both have egos the size of Montana, which they try to keep in check as their mutual attraction builds, but which explode during shooting contests where winning becomes a matter of pride.

The two eventually have to spend time cooling off in separate traveling shows on different continents in order to realize that winning isn’t as important as love.

Both Kirie Walz as Oakley and Kent Fleshman as Butler give genuine, energetic performances, particularly Walz who manages especially well Oakley’s duality as a scruffy, boisterous bird dog, and a lullaby-crooning mother.

In Act II, wearing a low-cut, strapless, red evening gown, Walz carries all the subtleties of a woman who would be more comfortable in gunpowder-covered buckskins even as she struggles to be feminine.

Her voice is strong and resounding, particularly in the musical’s best-known song, “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” in which the chemistry with Fleshman climaxes to create real art.

But the production’s biggest delight is the show’s ensemble, the group of often-overlooked actors/dancers who play multiple parts and have 20 costume changes each – the actors who end up in seemingly thankless roles meant to support the stars.

In community theater, ensemble members sometimes overstep their boundaries, grabbing for 10 seconds of attention with over-gesticulated movements and amateurish gawking stares.

The show’s ensemble, however, including Wesley Barnes, Courtney Church, Daniel Diller,

Bruce Huffman, Ellen Inghram, David E. Johnson Jr., Marcus King, Jonathan Matthews,

Eric Newsome, Rachel Newsome, Melanie Stanek, Cassie Thompson and Virginia Lynn Vann, worked like a well-oiled machine.

They smile when they dance and never miss a step. They provide background atmosphere as one unit rather than a herd of roaming individuals. When it is someone’s turn to stand out, they stand out, do their jobs and then blend quickly back into environment.

Now that’s professionalism.

Catherine Norton and Carson Turner also deserve an extra bow as star-crossed lovers Winnie Tate and Tommy Keeler, respectively, whose marriage is thwarted by Winnie’s overbearing sister. The roles, undoubtedly written to give the lead actors time to change clothes, could have been cliché, but Norton and Turner keep them clean, fresh and very alive.

Jason Spitzer’s direction seems on the mark, though he could have reined in a couple of actors who seem to shout their lines more than perform them.

The comic jabs of Buffalo Bill Cody, Charlie Davenport and Dolly Tate – played by Jeffrey Brewer, Joseph Lackie and Ashley Bugg Brown – come off without nuance, much the same as Oakley’s rifle-shooting: ready, aim, fire, reload. But they bring the house down every time, so who cares.

All in all, “Annie” is a very strong start to the season.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 682-8323 or by visiting www.theatrememphis.org. n

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