Sparkling lead performances help make Bay Street Theater’s new Annie Get Your Gun a warm, nostalgic visit to an earlier era.
Alexandra Socha, late of Broadway’s Head Over Heels, is a feisty Annie Oakley, the legendary Wild West sharpshooter of the 1880s. Matt Saldivar makes a gruff, mustachioed Frank Butler, her rival and mentor-turned-lover. They have genuine chemistry, especially in an excellent “Anything You Can Do.” Socha’s classic Broadway tones agreeably complement Saldivar’s Johnny Cash purr.
Casting Socha, 29, is a historically accurate choice, as Annie was a star in her 20s. In contrast, Ethel Merman was 38 when she originated the role and Bernadette Peters was 51 when she starred in the 1999 Broadway revival.
Director Sarna Lapine has stripped the show down to its essentials. Most productions of this Irving Berlin classic use a big, brassy orchestra. This one has a five-piece cowboy band, and in a conceit reminiscent of Daniel Fish’s Broadway Oklahoma! and John Doyle’s Sondheim revivals, several of the actors play instruments. Erik Della Penna’s orchestrations shine brightest in a prairie-fied “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” in which Socha and her female ensemble (some playing fiddles) plaintively yodel the “with a gun” refrain.
In today’s tragedy-saturated world, it’s something of a relief to see guns treated purely as trick-shot machines; the threat of violence never darkens this Annie.
The book was written by siblings Dorothy and Herbert Fields. With permission from the Berlin and Fields estates, Lapine painstakingly assembled her Annie from prior versions of the musical to highlight the heroine’s resourcefulness and gumption, while dispensing with a subplot or two. But as Berlin himself wrote “An Old-Fashioned Wedding,” in which a smirking Annie promises Frank to “love and honor, yes, but not obey,” a contemporary sensibility was never far below the surface.
Lapine, niece of Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, staged the sublime Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in 2017, after assisting Bart Sher on major revivals at Lincoln Center Theater. She more than does justice to her forebears in this innovative yet feel-good summer production. If you miss it, it’s Westward bound for the Pasadena Playhouse next year.
Annie Get Your Gun runs through Sept. 1 in Sag Harbor, New York. Information here.