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August 10, 2011
Make a date with Annie Oakley and her gun at Music Circus

By Marcus Crowder

mcrowder@sacbee.com

It's very tempting to call Beth Malone's clever, engaging performance of Annie Oakley a bull's eye, so let's just do it.

Malone hits the mark in every way including originality while bringing the great American sharpshooter to life in the Music Circus production of "Annie Get Your Gun."

The story is a fictionalized account of the real-life sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her eventual marriage to Frank Butler, whose Wild West show she joins. Oakley became an international sensation through the vaudevillian-styled shows that also included Buffalo Bill Cody and Chief Sitting Bull.

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN****
What: Beth Malone shines as Annie Oakley in this Music Circus production of the Irving Berlin play. Berlin got his big chance after the sudden death of Jerome Kern, and a legend was born.
Where: Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: Continues 8 p.m. today through Saturday; 2 p.m. today and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday (last show)
Tickets: $42-$74; tickets for ages 4-17, starting at $30
Time: Two hours and 30 minutes including intermission
Information: (916) 557-1999, www.tickets.com

Here the petite Malone gives us a forthright, homespun, completely irresistible Oakley. She sings in an affecting high lonesome twang both country tinged and full voiced.

The object of her affection, Edward Watts' old-fashioned Frank Butler, makes a strong compliment with matinee handsomeness and lush tenor. The pairing of these two could easily carry lesser material, but they are matched with Irving Berlin's incomparable score which yields a truly marvelous production.

One of the great Broadway stories is how Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun" was very nearly Jerome Kern's "Annie Get Your Gun." But Kern died from a stroke after arriving in New York to start working on the show.

Berlin was asked to take over the project by no less than the producers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. A musical theater classic was created. Legend has it after going off to think about the offer, Berlin wrote five songs in five days. Another story says he wrote the five songs in 10 days.

Whichever it was, from the opening "There's No Business Like Show Business," this show has songs from one of the greatest popular composers of the 20th century, doing his best work, stuffing gems into the great American songbook along the way.

The book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields with revisions by Peter Stone offers the slim frame of a show within a show. Dick Decareau's Charlie Davenport, the Wild West show's general manager serves as narrator recalling the rough courtship of Annie and Frank.

They meet at a shooting match the show arranged to drum up publicity at the start of each engagement. Annie beats Frank, setting up the play's central dynamic. Frank doesn't like being beaten and can't tolerate the idea of a woman being better than he is.

The two personalities and the dilemma they create are clearly defined in Frank's declaration, "The Girl That I Marry," followed by Annie's observation, "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun."

The unlikely pairing embodies the paradox of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. It also allows for an intensely moving duet on the ballad "They Say It's Wonderful." Malone also has powerful renditions of "I Got Lost in His Arms" and "I Got the Sun in the Morning."

The fine supporting cast includes Heather Lee as Dolly, Frank Butler's assistant, and Paul Ainsley as Chief Sitting Bull. Gary John La Rosa directs with knowing understanding of his classic material and John Macinnis adds energetic choreography.

The Music Circus already has had very strong season, and it has another with the production and a star with Malone.

Call the Bee's Marcus Crowder at (916)321-1120.

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