ANNIE GET YOUR GUN by Irving Berlin, Herbert and Dorothy Fields, directed by Donna Feore, with Louise Pitre, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jonathan Wilson, Sandra Caldwell, Billy Merasty, Avery Saltzman, George Masswohl and others. Presented by Tina VanderHeyden and Stephen Adler at Massey Hall (178 Victoria). Runs to August 27, Monday-Saturday 7:30 pm, matinees Thursday and Saturday 2 pm. $32.50-$75. 416-872-4255. Rating: NN
Louise Pitre is a national treasure. Watching and hearing her as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun is thrilling.
Even without the ambience of a proper set and with not much of a leading man to act and sing with, she presents a fully developed character who comes out shooting from the get-go. She shapes songs as stylistically different as You Can't Get A Man With A Gun, They Say It's Wonderful and I Got The Sun In The Morning with absolute authority and authenticity. She was born for the musical theatre stage. Come to think of it, if you look at this as a mini-concert built around Pitre, it works fine. Otherwise, the thing falls apart.
Rumour has it that this concert version of the play, if it proves successful, could be remounted fully staged later. Producers are understandably cautious in a tough market. (No big musicals are currently playing in Toronto.)
Considering the top price of $75, it's hard to accept what's on at Massey Hall . For one thing, you need sets and better direction to bring this silly story about competing sharpshooters in the American West to life.
The book has been tinkered with to erase some of the original's racism toward native Americans, but it's still pretty clunky. Songs are set up awkwardly, the love between Annie and rival/flame Frank Butler ( Billy Ray Cyrus ) isn't convincingly developed, and the second act is pretty much nothing but reprises, albeit of some tuneful songs.
A word about Cyrus. He filled in on short notice for Canadian country crooner Paul Brandt. I'm sure what star power he still possesses has drawn the 905-and-beyond crowd. But why does he look like he's never stepped on a stage before? And why, oh why does he sound like he's at a karaoke bar?