Annie get your Gun! – Top Show

You CAN get a man with a gun!

Tipped by the Sunday Times and The Mail as the best thing in Theatre to see this week, this colourful energetic and surprisingly contemporary production of Annie Get Your Gun burst onto the stage of the Sunderland Empire with a resounding Yee-haa! on its national tour. An action packed musical by Irvin Berlin based loosely on the life of the real Annie Oakley (Emma Williams) who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and her romance with sharpshooter Frank Butler (Jason Donovan). There are a string of great singalong songs throughout the show and hits which most people will recognise like ‘There’s No Business like Show Business’ and ‘Anything You Can do.’

The Howard Keel of Neighbours

Emma Williams as Annie carries the whole show with her powerful sweet voice and her infectious and uncomplicated enthusiasm for life and for Frank. Jason Donovan is likeable as he always is and is the biggest name in the show. He just about carries it off – even the dancing – but struggles vocally. He chickened out of some of the vocal gymnastics required in ‘Anything You Can Do’ but that was probably for the best. He could never compete with Emma’s long note holding abilities, which drew a spontaneous round of applause from the audience. My friend was a big fan of Jason’s from his Neighbours days and loved his performance but I was brought up old school on the movie, and he’s no Howard Keel.

The girls still love Jason

Irving Berlin was a master of the smart lyric and some of my favourite tongue twisters are in this show. For example during ‘I can Do Anything Better Than You’
Frank ‘I can knit a sweater,’ Annie ‘I can fill it better’ and in ‘You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun’ :
‘When I’m with a pistol, I sparkle like a crystal … But men don’t buy pajamas for pistol packinmamas’ 
I’m not sure pyjamas would be top of my list as a gift from a suitor but that’s beside the point.

Domestic dispute

Underneath the simple story of travelling show people trying to make a living  is a love story which tackles the surprisingly modern topic of feminism. Annie was very very good at what she did, but if she wanted to keep her man she had to pretend that he was better than her. Men don’t like to be beaten by women. Yes we know that, and even when Frank misses on purpose at the end so that he doesn’t beat Annie, it’s still a declared a draw. She never gets to beat him again. They are equals, partners, and the show is only saved by them agreeing to work together.

Battle of the sexes

The thorny topic of racism is also part of the show and the Indians (they are not referred to as Native Americans here) are segregated into a different travelling area and one of the showgirls is forbidden from marrying a man who is only half ‘Redskin’ (un PC again) None of this can be taken very seriously however as the dancer playing the half Indian looks more like a London accountant and Chief Sitting Bull resembles a bad Village People impersonator. Apparently Buffalo Bill was Norman Pace from Hale and Pace (I thought he looked familiar) He was wearing some strange thigh high boots which I think were actually meant for someone a lot taller..I digress – the dancing was great with the imaginative choreography really getting into the spirit of the Wild West

Who doesn’t love a dancing cowboy?

The audience had a slightly older and more sober (literally) profile than it sometimes has at the Empire but they certainly appreciated the show. There was a whole lot more talent on that stage than you’ll ever see on the X Factor tour, that’s for sure. Great staging, costumes and production values make this a must see and a fabulous feel good night out. That’s hard target to hit these days.

A show within a show

A zippy effervescent cast and a constant stream of great show stopping numbers. It’s worth going to see for Emma’s performance alone not to mention  Jason Donovan in a  cowboy hat.

Surprised with a shotgun