WHAT "Annie Get Your Gun"
WHEN | WHERE Through Sept. 1, Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
INFO $40-$155; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org
BOTTOM LINE Cutting the Irving Berlin classic down to its essentials doesn't take away the charm.
When it opened on Broadway in 1946, "Annie Get Your Gun" was a big, brash musical comedy powered by the larger-than-life Ethel Merman. The show ran for more than 1,000 performances. Then the tinkering began, with a series of revivals changing the order of numbers and dropping songs and characters.
The charming production that closes the summer season at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor distills all that came before it, as director Sarna Lapine rethinks the piece one more time. Taking a cue from the current, Tony Award-winning revival of "Oklahoma!," she pares down the musical, based on the life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, to the essentials. The cast, working on a spare, evocative set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, is smaller than usual. The music comes from a tight bluegrass band, supplemented by ensemble members who pick up a fiddle, accordion or harmonica at every opportunity.
To a large extent, Lapine reverts to the original Dorothy and Herbert Fields book, though she has carefully plucked from the scripts of all the revivals. But the show has always worked primarily because of the wonderful Irving Berlin score, which shines in this refined format, notably in the sweet and emotional "Moonshine Lullaby" and the best known song, "There’s No Business Like Show Business," which becomes a lively, foot-stomping hoedown.
In the title role, Alexandra Socha, the feisty princess from Broadway’s recent "Head Over Heels," is the antithesis of Merman. Her performance as the illiterate ragamuffin with smarts she didn’t get from a book is beautifully low-key, with just enough rebellious spunk to make her interesting.
And it’s easy to see her attraction to gunslinging competitor Frank Butler, played with the command of an egocentric leading man (if a touch too much vocal twang) by Matt Saldivar. Other highlights in the strong cast include George Abud as slick business manager Charlie Davenport and Jonathan Joss as the imposing Indian chief Sitting Bull. (This production drops the problematic and stereotypical song "I’m an Indian, Too," which drew Native American protesters during the original Broadway run.)
Staging revered musicals from Broadway's golden age has proved risky business lately, with shows like "Carousel," "My Fair Lady" and "Kiss Me, Kate" searching to find relevance in the #MeToo era, and this one is no exception. But Lapine has struck a perfect balance, giving us an Annie Oakley who stands up for herself with a delightful and empowering mix of grit and innocence.
"Anything you can do, I can do better," she sings in yet another hit from the show. And, wow, do we ever believe her.