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.
Favouring a great wide stage, as he did in last year’s collaboration with Jane Horrocks, Brecht’s The Good Soul of Sezchuan, 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, as if in sarcastic one-dimensional retort to a filmed travelogue of forest landscapes and grizzly bears during the overture.
Two children hold hands through that scenic prologue, and Horrocks’ impish, slightly crazed little Annie Oakley – her childish knees are both knocked and grimy – and Julian Ovenden’s likeable Frank Butler work out their romance against a background of professional rivalry.
Both are exceptional shooting aces, but Annie wins her man by ceding hot shot supremacy, a preemptive strike against the political correctness that simply doesn’t figure in the book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Nor does the hilarious filmed inset of Annie chumming up with world leaders – Churchill, Hitler, Mao Tse Tung – on a triumphal tour.
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. She doesn’t have Merman’s lungs, but she has a dry, skilful way with the songs; her sweetness comes laced with acid.
Ovenden shapes his performance around her, and there are delicious turns by Liza Sadovy and John Marquez in the troupe, some additional dialogue by April de Angelis, a travelator of scaled-down scenery as the train crosses the country, and a brilliant arrangement of the score by Jason Carr played on the four pianos Stravinsky also used in Les Noces.
The pianos can be a bit relentless, but the concept is so fresh and delightful (the pianists pop up with cacti and odd props) it outweighs the misgiving. The programme fails to list the musical numbers (naughty), but there are corporate intakes of pleasure as one great song follows another.
Everyone knows “There’s No Business Like Showbusiness,” but a whole generation will rediscover the irresistible jauntiness of “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and the lyrical beauty of “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Moonshine Lullaby.” A palpable hit.
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