The Young Vic revival of Irving Berlin's classic Wild West musical Annie Get Your Gun opened to critics on Friday (See Today's 1st Night Photos), marking the show's first major London revival in over 15 years.
The production features Jane Horrocks as gunslinger Annie Oakley, hoping that anything Ethel Merman can do she can do better, while Julian Ovenden stars as Frank Butler, her sharp-shooting rival and love interest.
The revival, which contains additional dialogue by April de Angelis and features a score arranged for four pianos by Jason Carr, is helmed by renowned opera and theatre director Richard Jones, designed by Ultz and choreographed by Phillipe Giraudeau. It continues until 2 January 2010.
Critically, Annie Get Your Gun didn't hit the bullseye across the board, but it certainly came close. The 'two Michaels' - Coveney and Billington - both raved, awarding five stars each and praising Jones' “Brechtian” staging. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer found himself wanting to “shoot both director and designer” for over-meddling, but nevertheless found comfort in the “real chemistry” between the two leads. Horrocks fared well, her “kooky” take on Annie proving popular with most, while Julian Ovenden also hit the target with a performance oozing “swagger” and showcasing his “magnificent" vocal abilities. But it was Berlin's music that emerged as the real star of the show - an "astonishing string of hits" according to the Evening Standard's Fiona Mountford.
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Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (five stars) - “There’s nothing not to like about Richard Jones’ revival of Annie Get Your Gun which solves the book’s problems by being cheeky about them and delivers Irving Berlin’s wonderful score with wit, brio and a sly, musicianly expertise … Jones spreads the action of the Wild West travelling show high, wide and handsome in Ultz’s design, with gorgeously minimal choreography by Philippe Giraudeau … The two previous London Annies I’ve seen - Suzi Quattro in 1986 and Kim Crisswell in 1992 - forced you to bear Ethel Merman in mind when writing about them. But Horrocks side-steps this by being so kooky and unusual … A palpable hit.”
Dominic Maxwell in The Times (three stars) - “Four saloon pianos handle the entire score; a couple of numbers, including the jauntily insensitive 'I’m an Indian Too', have vamoosed; and the Wild West setting has moved, not always comfortably, into the 20th century … Jane Horrocks as Annie starts out as a gawky naif in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt before her success in Buffalo Bill’s travelling circus turns her into a gawky celebrity. She’s sparky, adorable, plays it big - yet needs to play it even bigger; and she lacks the truly big voice that would really grab hold of the songs … The piano backing requires sustained exuberance, otherwise the performance looks like a dress rehearsal. Skilful though the cast of 20 are, the show lacks hips … Jones’s production isn’t fully achieved yet, but Annie Get Your Gun is still great fun.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (five stars) – “Richard Jones' brilliant production … offers the wittiest musical staging London has seen in years … I would, in fact, call the staging 'Brechtian' if that were not now seen as pejorative. Ultz has transformed the Young Vic into a wide proscenium stage studded with footlights which is wonderfully apt for a musical that announces 'There's No Business Like Show Business' … Everything about the musical has been radically re-thought. Annie herself is normally played, in the Ethel Merman tradition, as a brass-lunged belter. Here the matchless Jane Horrocks plays her as a scrawny, dirty-knee'd ragamuffin frustrated by her lack of obvious sexual allure … And there are perfect performances from Julian Ovenden as the strutting, cocksure but not unlikeable Butler, John Marquez as an archetypal fixer and Liza Sadovy as his mutinous partner.”
Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (three stars) - “If the production and Jane Horrocks as sharp-shooting tomboy Annie Oakley, don’t always come natur’lly, at least the next delightful number is only moments away … It’s unclear what director Richard Jones hoped to gain from updating the action (Oakley was at her height in the 1880s) to a loose approximation of the 1940s. The mock-up video sequences of Horrocks receiving medals from the likes of Churchill and, er, Hitler, are amusing enough but make no sense … Ovenden hits the target absolutely on the sweet spot, strutting about Ultz’s narrowed-down, saloon-bar-style stage with magnificent swagger. His lovely voice is a joy and helps smooth over a less accomplished turn from Horrocks. Annie’s pronounced Hicksville accent seems a struggle and she has a worrying tendency to gurn. Confident ensemble singing and nifty accompaniment from just four pianos shoot sharper than she does.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (three stars) - "It says much for the melodic and lyrical brilliance of Irving Berlin that this revival of Annie Get Your Gun survives almost everything the tediously contentious director Richard Jones can throw at it … Then there is the design, or rather the anti-design, by Ultz … All I got was a murderous desire to shoot both director and designer. Yet this great show somehow survives. The score is one of the finest in Broadway’s history and Berlin’s gift for unforgettable melody and witty lyrics ('You can’t shoot a male in the tail like a quail') have a superb, polished panache … we are deprived of lavish orchestrations, but musical director Jason Carr has done a decent job and the small musical forces mean the artists can be heard without amplification. There is also real chemistry between the two stars ... Tall, handsome and with a wonderfully rich voice, Ovenden is a great leading man, though feminists will be outraged by the sincerity with which he sings 'the girl that I marry will have to be/as soft and as pink as a nursery'.”