Sure, “The Great Gatsby” caused quite a stir this summer with its glitz and glam, but Theatre at the Grove in Nuangola is pushing the clock back even further, inviting audiences to experience the fun of the Wild West through its production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Grab a seat and get comfortable under the “big top” as you witness the spectacle that is Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
“We want you to feel as though Buffalo Bill took his show on the road and brought it right to the Grove, here for all of us to enjoy,” director Mike Wawrzynek said of the feel of the show.
“Annie Get Your Gun” is a story based on real-life people, relaying the tale of renowned sharpshooter Annie Oakley (played by Amanda Reese), who finds herself swept away by the Wild West Show. Oakley is not only taken aback by the show itself, but by Frank Butler (played by Chris LaFrance), the show's headliner, who steals her sights right from her gun barrel.
The show was first brought to Broadway in 1946, but this production is based off the 1999 revival, making it what Paul Winarski, who plays Chief Sitting Bull, calls “a show within a show,” with Buffalo Bill narrating Oakley's tale.
“I have all the characters doing more of a caricature than being actual people,” Wawrzynek said about how he approached the show, which he has never seen on stage.
Wawrzynek put in a fair amount of research, reading the script, downloading the soundtrack, and looking at pictures of the real people to get a feel for who they were. He then let his actors take it and run with it.
“They all look as much as the actual people did, but I'm allowing the actors to take their own spin on the characters in order to fit in with the circus, big top tent idea.”
Due to space limitations, Winarski said the cast has been pared down, making the performance that much more intimate.
Wawrzynek said one thing he enjoys about the show is the chemistry between Butler and Oakley.
“It's in any sort of setting,” he said. “When they're singing their songs together, it's just very compassionate, romantic. I'm a sap for that sort of stuff, so to see them hug and spin and sway together, I always just sort of die watching that, at how cute they are.”
“And to have the entire cast in that opening number come out one by one, then fill up the tiny stage and do a kick line, it's one of those chilling moments in the theater where you get goosebumps.”
Winarski looks at the show as a take on the first celebrity.
“The story of a woman in the late 1800s becoming such a driving force in the industry, in show business, it's like she's really the first American celebrity, along with the other in the show. I think the entire idea of superstardom started in the era of the Wild West shows, traveling from town to town and the people becoming so familiar that they caused a sensation wherever they went. That turned into vaudeville, which developed into the Broadway stage, which turned into movies, and so on.”
The soundtrack is a huge draw of the show.
“It's one of the most famous scores in musical theater history,” Winarski said. “You've got 'There's No Business like Show Business,' 'I Got Lost in his Arms,' and 'You Can't Get a Man with a Gun.' It's familiar.”
But, all in all, it comes down to Annie.
“Sure, it's a family show filled with catchy songs, but it's really about her,” Wawrzynek noted. “It's a cute story about a girl who is taken off her feet by the Wild West show and put in the spotlight. She's famous just because she's doing what she does best.”