By Randi Bjornstad
There’s something special about the musical version of “Annie Get Your Gun” that opens at The Shedd Institute for the Arts on Dec. 2, says The Shedd’s executive director, James Ralph.
“This show gets done a lot, but almost never in its original 1946 version,” Ralph said in announcing the production, which will be onstage in downtown Eugene through Dec. 18. Except for one song eliminated because it has references disrespectful of Native Americans, this version “is the original,” he said.
Since that first version, the show has been updated twice, first in 1966, which was mostly a revival, and again in 1999, when it was basically rewritten. The Shedd did the later version 10 years ago, with veteran songstress Shirley Andress in the role of Annie Oakley, which she will reprise in this show.
Matt Musgrove, another well-known local performer, will play the male lead, Frank Butler.
Going back to the very beginning is one of The Shedd’s goals for its productions, Ralph said.
“We have always favored producing shows as close to their original form as possible, and that has become an even stronger goal for us over the past decade,” he said. “To that end, we put quite a bit of time last year to finding a fair copy of the 1946 original book — which is not readily available — and worked with existing score materials to come up with a working 1946 version.”
“Annie Get Your Gun” is the story — “lighthearted, totally predictable, completely untrue and thoroughly enjoyable,” as Ralph puts it — of the real-life American West sharpshooters and performers Oakley and Butler. Oakley was born the year Abraham Lincoln won his first presidential election, in 1860, and Butler turned 13 that year. Both died in 1926.
They met when Oakley — originally Phoebe Ann “Annie” Mosey — was 15 years old and bested Butler in a shooting competition when he came through Cincinnati, Ohio, with a traveling show and a local hotelier put up a $100 bet that Annie could beat the marksman. They later married and became part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Oakley, one of nine children born to a poor Quaker family in rural Ohio, learned to shoot when she was about 7 years old to put food on the family’s dinner table after her father’s death from pneumonia. Two years later, she and a sister were admitted to an infirmary, and a year after that she was “bound out” as a family helper. However, the promised wages and education never happened, and she basically was a slave in the household before running away at age 15 back to her mother’s home. She took up shooting again, supplying game to restaurants and hotels and reportedly paid off her mother’s mortgage before she turned 16.
For the rest of her life — and Butler’s — the two continued to perform their marksmanship skills, and Oakley also appeared in several movies. Her health began to decline in 1925, and she died in 1926. Butler reportedly was so distraught by her death that he stopped eating and died 18 days later.
The musical, of course, is much more lighthearted than that and is the source of several classic songs, including “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “Anything You Can Do,” “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
The original book for “Annie Get Your Gun” was the creation of a brother-sister team, Dorothy and Herbert Fields. Jerome Kern was on tap to write the music, but he collapsed and died in the street soon after arriving in New York for the project and was replaced by Irving Berlin, who ended up doing both the music and lyrics, the latter which originally was going to be the task of Dorothy Fields, who had originated the idea for the musical and also had sold the idea to Rodgers & Hammerstein.
Restoring the appropriate accolades to Dorothy Fields is one reason The Shedd’s Ralph is especially eager to bring back the 1946 version of “Annie Get Your Gun.” The other is his regret at having done the 1999 version instead a decade ago.
“I’ve always felt bad about that,” he said. “This is a bit of a doing-it-right, finally, for me.”
This production is directed by Ron Daum, with music direction by Robert Ashens. Caitlin Christopher is the choreographer, with costumes by Jamie Parker and Janet Whitlow as set designer. Set builders are Sean Johnson and Steve Ward, and Connie Huston is set painter.
In addition to the leads, Andress and Musgrove, other featured players are Ron Daum, Tracy Tooze, Evan McCarty, Clarae Smith, Matthew Leach and George Comstock. Additional characters are played by Bradley Wilson, Kara Churchill, Campbell Conforth, Noa Ablow Measelle, Matthew Michaels and Maeva Petersen.
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2-3, 9 and 16-17 with 3 p.m. matinees on Dec. 4, 10 and 18
Where: Jaqua Concert Hall, The Shedd Institute for the Arts, at the corner of Broadway and High Street in downtown Eugene
Tickets: $22 to $38, available at The Shedd box office at 868 High St., 541-434-7000, or online at theshedd.org/; call or go online for details about student and other special discounts
Before or after-show meals: 6 p.m. before evening shows or after matinees, by advance registration only; $21.75 for adults $16.75 for children 9 years and younger (beer, wine and soft drinks extra)