Note: This production has closed; I caught the final performance of the weekend-long concert last night.
“Gettin’ paid for doin’ what comes naturally!” sings Annie Oakley in that Irving Berlin classic, Annie Get Your Gun.
Ok, let’s get something out of the way: Patti LuPone isn’t a natural fit for Annie Oakley. Try as she might, she radiates a sassy theatrical bravado that overpowers any effort to transform her into a country bumpkin. Yes, she’s past the age of believability for the role. And let’s not even mention her southern accent by way of Lawng Eye-land, or the bizarro Bernadette Peters-esque wig she’s saddled with.
However, LuPone has such guts and charisma, and looks like she’s having such a great time, you can’t help but root for this sharp shooter. It’s a spirited performance, completely appropriate for a concert staging. And by “concert staging,” I mean fully staged, with costumes, wigs, props and choreography — just like all Ravinia musical productions directed by Lonny Price. Both he and LuPone didn’t need to aim this high, but they did.
Let’s also get another thing out of the way: this material is dated. After seeing Carousel Saturday night (which opened in 1945 — a year before the original production of Annie Get Your Gun premiered on Broadway starring Ethel Merman), it’s exhausting to see all these women degrade themselves just to land a man. Julie Jordan convinces herself that Billy Bigelow hits her because he loves her, and poor Annie Oakley has to dumb down her talent to make Frank Butler decide that she’s “the girl that he’ll marry.” Lawd.
But that Irving Berlin score is the thing, and thankfully the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was on hand to gallop through (what sounded like) the original orchestrations under the baton of Paul Gemignani. Maybe a tad over-amplified, but a great, full sound. And LuPone simply soared through her big showstoppers — most notably, “I Got Lost In His Arms.”
As LuPone’s co-star, Patrick Cassidy (who filled in for the previously-announced Brian Stokes Mitchell) seemed a bit under-prepared as Frank Butler — particularly when racing through the musical lead-ins to his big numbers. But he’s sure pleasant on the eyes. It’s clear why Annie’s heart melts upon meeting him. And he seemed be having a blast up there, particularly in their two comedic duets: “Old Fashioned Wedding” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).”
In the supporting roles, George Hearn showed up to play Buffalo Bill and Suzanne Sole nearly stole the show as the scheming Dolly Tate. LuPone’s son, Joshua Johnston, had a bit part, and it was fun to see him play a short scene opposite his befringed mom.
Overall, a lovely night at out — and gorgeous weather to boot!