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The 'Annie' Star? Irving

Wopat shines and Henner vamps, but the real winner is Berlin's 1946 score. Theater Review

March 01, 2001|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

There's nothing like getting lost in the arms of a terrific song. Irving Berlin wrote more than his share, many of which emerge relatively unscathed in the current, conflicted touring revival of "Annie Get Your Gun," continuing through Sunday at the Wilshire Theatre.

Berlin's 1946 score offers, among others, "Lost in His Arms," sharpshooter Annie Oakley's realization of her love for rival sure-shot Frank Butler. Others? The loping "Moonshine Lullaby," "They Say It's Wonderful" (falling in love, that is), "I Got the Sun in the Morning" and that pearly comic two-upsmanship duet, "Anything You Can Do."

Now in its final lap, the national tour features Marilu Henner and, invaluably, Tom Wopat, who co-starred on Broadway opposite (among others) the Tony Award-winning Bernadette Peters. (At the moment, Reba McEntire's starring on Broadway, to much acclaim.) As Annie, Henner works hard, moves well, if too often in vamp mode--and in the main, sings not well enough. It's a modest performance, at odds with the role.

Wopat works hard yet effortlessly, moves well and sings very well indeed, with a rich, relaxed baritone supplemented by a gruff comic touch. He's the main reason this revival has some charm to call its own.

The original Herbert and Dorothy Fields libretto is rife with casual racism regarding Native Americans. Rewrite man Peter Stone toned that down, yet ended up tying himself in politically correct knots. The new material is obvious, acrid, joyless, surprisinglywitless. The wisecracks, most of them tired-broad jokes directed at Butler's assistant, Dolly Tate (Susann Fletcher), are like damp firecrackers on the fifth of July.

As staged on Broadway by Graciela Daniele, "Annie Get Your Gun" had a strong 1960s TV variety-hour streak. The Broadway revival's co-choreographer Jeff Calhoun, expanding on some Wild West routines he and Tommy Tune cooked up for "The Will Rogers Follies," is listed as the tour's sole director and choreographer. If anything, Calhoun has amped up the '60s camp streak. Throughout, the leads compete for stage time (and room, given Tony Walton's cramped Big Top unit set) with les boys in les chaps, and the cleavage-spilling chorines costumed by William Ivey Long.

The winner, despite the revival's synthetic qualities, is the Berlin score. Wopat takes a soft-sell approach, winningly. And there's tasty character work from Joe Hart's Charlie Davenport, Carolyn Ockert's Winnie and Vince Viverito's Sitting Bull, who extracts what he can from Stone's unhelpful new jokes.

* "Annie Get Your Gun," Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Today and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Ends March 4. $42-$67. (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Annie Get Your Gun

Marilu Henner: Annie Oakley

Tom Wopat: Frank Butler

George McDaniel: Buffalo Bill

Joe Hart: Charlie Davenport

Susann Fletcher: Dolly Tate

Randy Donaldson: Tommy Keeler

Carolyn Ockert: Winnie Tate

Vince Viverito: Chief Sitting Bull

Charles Goff: Foster Wilson

Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields, revised by Peter Stone. Directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, based on the Broadway revival directed by Graciela Daniele. Supervising musical director and music arranger John McDaniel. Scenic design by Tony Walton. Costumes by William Ivey Long. Lighting by Beverly Emmons. Orchestrations Bruce Coughlin. Production stage manager David Foster.

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