Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The "New" Annie Get Your Gun

Last we heard from director Jay Manley he told us stories about the original Annie Get Your Gun and how it made its way to the Broadway stage. And he promised us more information about this version of Annie (the recent revival version) and what exactly is different about it. So here is that info:
The “New” Annie Get Your Gun, “Political Correctness,” and What Changed
By Jay Manley

When Annie Get Your Gun first bowed on Broadway in 1946, the notion of “political correctness” was unknown. As a nation, we have become more conscious of our pluralism as a people with the rise of “liberation movements” - African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Gay, Senior, disabled… well, the list goes on and on!

“Political correctness” has become something of a joke, and sadly, in my opinion, it is now even fair game for it to be virtually discounted. While it has certainly seen plenty of silly excesses, at its best, political correctness for me means a respect for others, their traditions and history, and a conscious attempt to continually educate oneself about others. In that way, I think we stand the best chance of honoring and not stupidly offending others.


So what does all this have to do with Annie…?

Annie, in its initial presentation, is a potential “P.C. Felon” on two counts: I have talked to many women who are turned off by Annie’s mindless adoration of Frank (an estimation very much bolstered by the awful film version). Then there’s the depiction of Native Americans (in 1946, we just called them “Indians”) which is pretty hard to stomach in 2006.

In revising Annie, writer Peter Stone (“1776,” “Titanic,” “Woman of the Year,” “My One and Only,” etc.), uses much of the original book, but does a very deft job of inserting a sly, contemporary take on both of these troublesome issues. In his ‘92 Broadway revision, Annie emerges as a competent, competitive force of nature who is every inch Frank’s equal and requires him to meet her more than half way. The presence of Chief Sitting Bull (who did, indeed, appear with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show) has been adjusted, successfully, as well.

But what else changed in the revision? Peter Stone made the entire new show a flashback, in which Buffalo Bill recalls his heyday. He takes us backwards to recall the story of Annie and Frank. The show no longer begins with a pageant-like opening number about Buffalo Bill, but with the show that is the signature piece of Annie, and perhaps the American musical, as well, “There’s No Business Like Show Business!” Interestingly, this song was added to the original show, when a cover for scene changes was necessary; no one dreamed it would become a virtual anthem for the theatre.

Stone adds two new characters, the bi-racial (Native American/Irish) Tommy, and his love interest, Winnie. The matronly Dolly has been transformed into a much younger, comic character, who longs for Frank, always unsuccessfully. Her presence lends a nice tension to Annie’s relationship with Frank.

Three new songs appear: “Old Fashioned Wedding,” written by Berlin for a post-1946 revival, and two comic/dance numbers for Tommy and Winnie, both of which were written by Berlin for the original production, but never used. Apart from the old “Buffalo Bill” opening number, two other songs have been deleted: “I’m An Indian, Too,” now a rather embarrassing piece of hokum, full of imagined “Indian” words (think of Eulalie Shinn in “The Music Man,”: “I will now count to ten in the Indian tongue,” intending to be taken as authentic) and Frank’s “I’m A Bad, Bad Man.” He was already bad enough! No loss to lose any of these songs, in my opinion.

To my mind, Stone’s revision was a welcome one, which hopefully rescues this classic gem from the musical graveyard. I’ll be interested to see what audiences, and particularly those who loved the original, think about our “new” Annie Get Your Gun.” Feel free to share your thoughts with me - <>

I could swear that when I was in Annie... in 1978 (as a very young person, I assure you) that Old Fashioned Wedding was in there. And because the Internet is a marvelous thing I was able to do a little Googling and discover that after it was added for the 1966 revival version at Lincoln Center, that 1966 version became the most commonly produced version.

I'm glad to hear that "I'm an Indian Too" was cut. That was embarrassing back in 1978!

I hate to contradict Jay, but Tommy and Winnie were in the original Herbert & Dorothy Fields book. In the original production (in 1946), Tommy was played by Kenny Bowers, and Winnie was played by Betty Ann Nyman (interestingly enough, both of them appeared in only two Broadway shows, and the same two - AGYG and Best Foot Forward). The score included both Tommy and Winnie numbers: "I'll Share It All With You" and "Who Do You Love, I Hope", although only the latter was included on the cast recording (which also left off "I'm A Bad, Bad Man" and "Colonel Buffalo Bill").

When the show was revived at Lincoln Center in 1966 (a production that the wags at the time called "Granny Get Your Gun", due to Merman's age), the characters of Tommy and Winnie were cut. As you already noted, Berlin wrote "Old Fashioned Wedding" specifically for this production.

Peter Stone, in revising the book for the '99 production, chose to restore Tommy and Winnie. I'm not familiar with the content of the original book, so I don't know how much of Winnie and Tommy in the new one is Stone and how much is Fields.

As an aside: for reasons unknown to me, at some point in the run of the '99 revival (after Bernadette Peters had left), they decided to cut "I'll Share It All With You". It remains in the licensed script (obviously, since we're doing it).
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