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Thursday
Jul252019

Mill Town Players Hit Bullseye with "Annie Get Your Gun"

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

Before the summer of 2019 slips away, Mill Town Players is offering a sunny, rip-snorting production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Sarah Greene stars as Annie Oakley in the Mill Town Players’ “Annie Get Your Gun,” continuing through Aug. 4 at the Pelzer Auditorium. (Photo by Escobar Photography LLC).Irving Berlin’s classic 1946 musical really is a perfect summertime treat, as sugary and refreshing as a tall glass of sweet tea.

Director Lauren Imhoff’s blithe and breezy staging features a dynamite cast led by Sarah Greene and Bradley Lucore as the two sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler who toggle between comic rivalry and blissful infatuation.

Annie and Frank fall in love as stars of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show but their fierce competitiveness forces them apart. Will love triumph in the end? Need one ask?

A host of beloved musical standards propels the show -- “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “Anything You Can Do,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” and the boisterous curtain-raiser “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” among other favorites.

Imhoff, assisted by Lucy Southwell, brings to the production a pleasing clarity and comic inventiveness that reaches sublime heights in the competitive duet “Anything You Can Do.” 

The principal cast and chorus of almost two dozen make a bountiful sound in the Pelzer Auditorium on “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and other big ensemble numbers.

Greene and Lucore are terrific as Annie and Frank. Greene’s irrepressible Annie has a sparkling smile and a lovely voice. Her rendition of the divine “Moonshine Lullaby” is sweetly rendered. But Greene also has some powerful pipes that she unleashes when needed.

Lucore exhibits a resonant baritone that’s also capable of a warm, expressive croon. 

It’s easy to overplay “Annie Get Your Gun.” Greene and Lucore opt for understatement, delivering the show’s sometimes corny jokes naturally. The musical’s humor still hits the mark: The opening night crowd seemed to have a grand time.

Will Ragland, the founder of the Mill Town Players, returns to the stage as Buffalo Bill Cody, a role Ragland embraces with gusto.

A romantic subplot involves Drake King (Tommy Keeler) and Waverly Speranza (Winnie Tate), who make a fetching and spirited young couple.

Laura Beth Beckner, as Frank’s assistant Dolly Tate, is appropriately catty and sarcastic. Joe Welborn plays Chief Sitting Bull with comic stoicism. 

It’s great to see self-assured Upstate stage veterans like Bud Shevick (Pawnee Bill) and Tom Holahan (Foster Wilson) in this production. 

Other fine contributions are offered by Alex Robinson and the beaming, energetic children Alice Johnson, Daisy Bates and Riley Fincher-Foster.

One caveat: On opening night, Annie and her siblings were too well-scrubbed at the beginning of the show. They’re supposed to be hillbillies at the outset: References are made to their comically grubby appearance, but Greene’s Annie was gorgeous when she first stepped foot on stage. That shortchanges the “Fair Lady”-arc of her character.

Imhoff’s production follows Peter Stone’s 1999 version of the show, which updates the musical in a thoroughly appealing way, eliminating some cringe-worthy songs and scenes, and giving Annie greater self-assertion. She’s a forward-looking character, anticipating changes in women’s status. Frank, meanwhile, is stuck in the privileges of his gender – but he seems to have the capacity to change.

There’s a subplot that touches on prejudice against Tommy, who is half-Native American, and though the subject is treated lightly, it resonates against the backdrop of today’s political climate.

Musical director Julie Florin deserves credit for the superb vocal preparation. Kudos to Florin particularly for emphasizing clarity in diction. 

Stacey Hawks’ costumes – including some sumptuous ballroom gowns -- are outstanding.

Ragland, scenic artist Abby Brown and graphic designer Ryan Bradburn created the excellent big top setting for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. 

This peppy production of “Annie Get Your Gun” continues through Aug. 4 at the Pelzer Auditorium. For tickets, a bargain at only $10-$12, call 864-947-8000 or visit the website www.milltownplayers.org.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7. Follow the Facebook page Upstate Onstage for the latest in arts news and reviews. 

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