Ah, the golden era of musicals. The times of Oklahoma!, South Pacific and The Sound of Music filled with catchy songs and cracking casts. Annie Get Your Gun is another musical from the ‘golden era’ of musicals and it has the dance numbers and the cast to hold that acclaim, but it’s somewhat lacking on the music front.
The story is this: Buffalo Bill rolls into Cincinnati, challenging the best gunman in the county to a shooting match with his champ, cocky Frank Butler (Jason Donovan), who has the wind knocked out of his puffed up sails when the gunman turns out to be a gunwoman. She falls for him, but his pride is dented by her sure-fire prowess, and there’s both swooning and plenty of petulant flouncing as the writers draw the star-crossed lovers towards an all-guns-blazing finale.
There are sing-along songs like Anything You Can Do, Moonshine Lullaby and There’s No Business Like Show Business, which will always be classics. The likes of My Defences Are Down and They Say It’s Wonderful, however, pull the show down. At times, the musical feels incredibly weighty and overly long, and cutting a few of the weaker songs would breathe life into it.
When the songs are on form it’s fantastic. The aforementioned Anything You Can Do is the challenge laid down by ‘Little’ Annie Oakley in the closing minutes by the wonderful Emma Williams and it turns out she’s right – this particular Annie deserves every one of the medals that clink and shine on the bodice of her silk dress.
Emma Williams may not be the biggest name on the bill, but she certainly shines the brightest. She really does light up the stage, her joyful performance as the straight-talkin’, gun-toting, rootin’ tootin’ Mid-Western ingénue is simply a delight.
In fact, Williams is on such top form that everyone around her struggles to make a similarly lasting impression in a show that, certainly ahead of the interval, sometimes feels more damp squib than sharp-shooting. Jason Donovan in particular, looks uncomfortable and out of place in the duet songs – and he’s sold millions of solo albums. I was disappointed with Donovan’s performance on the whole; his accent was lacking and he looked tired and weary during the dance numbers. He was also often submerged beneath the ensemble, wavering in and out of key.
The touring show tackles some of the musical’s more overt racist and sexist moments by presenting the story as a show within a show, but its original 1946 plot remains somewhat thin. Despite this, Annie Get Your Gun is a solid show. It’s not outstanding, but Emma Williams certainly is. She is the reason to go and see it. She’s that good.