Annie Get Your Gun: Community Theatre Packs Powerhouse Performances
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Vitor Lindo
Annie Get Your Gun was first written with Ethel Merman in mind for the lead role. Her good friend and New York librettist and writer Dorothy Fields, along with Dorothy’s brother Herbert Fields, wrote a fictionalized story of the real-life love and adventures of sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, and knew this vocal powerhouse would do Annie justice. Known for a voice so impressive that she rarely used a microphone during her long career, Merman brought Annie to life in the show’s 1946 Broadway opening. Sixty-eight years, and approximately six months later, producer Ed Dupuis’ production of Annie Get Your Gun opens at May River Theatre in Bluffton on November 7, 2014, with a talented cast also equal to the task.
With timeless themes of American drive and grit, and love and rivalry, Annie Get Your Gun is as in-step with the times today as it was in 1946 and brings with it a rich musical score written by Irving Berlin. Having just come off their successful musical collaboration on Oklahoma!, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein had launched a production company, and had hired Jerome Kern to write the Annie Get Your Gun score. Three days into the project, Kern passed away suddenly and Berlin fortuitously stepped in, writing musical numbers that most audience members will either sing along with, knowing the words by heart, or will say, “I didn’t realized this song was from this musical,” said May River Theatre’s veteran musical director Beth Corry. From its inception in 1999, Corry was the musical director for the first eight musicals put on at the May River Theatre under the leadership of founders Ed and Jodie Dupuis.
“It’s a real slice of Americana. Irving Berlin was very apt at really getting to the heart of the heartland and to the hearts of what people want to hear,” Corry said. “This musical has all the elements of Americana. Berlin’s music is really spunky and romantic. In a way, you can almost parallel this to My Fair Lady, where Eliza Doolittle comes from a very uneducated, unpolished background; Annie does too. And then, through being elevated, all of a sudden she becomes a very beautiful, glamorous woman who is quite capable.”
Like the original Broadway production, the right casting is bringing Annie to life. “We have just the perfect Annie Oakley. She just is Annie Oakley, and her counterpart Frank is doing a fabulous job. Their voices blend so nicely,” said director and choreographer Barbara K. Clark. A member of the Dupuis theatrical family from its Dunnagan’s Alley days on Hilton Head Island, Clark was also a part of the 1999 troupe that launched Bluffton’s May River Theatre and has acted in, directed and choreographed numerous shows at their venue in the Ulmer Auditorium at Bluffton Town Hall.
Clark and Corry are a Rodgers and Hammerstein theatrical match made in heaven, and they clearly love this show and each other. “We’re crazy about each other,” Corry said of her good friend Clark, “and we have a wonderful sense of community in our ensemble.”
MADI OGBURN PLAYS ANNIE OAKLEY IN MAY RIVER THEATRE’S PRODUCTION OF ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.
It takes the kind of passion for local theatre that these two women have to take a group of volunteer actors and turn out productions that impress and entertain as absolutely as those at May River Theatre.
“We almost have a company here at May River Theatre. A lot of the ensemble people are in almost every musical we do,” Clark said. Taking the veterans and the new members of the cast, Clark and her team are reaching to exciting heights with this production. “The last number of the first act is always the big number,” Clark said of the recently choreographed piece. “The audience is going to be surprised!”
“I’ve worked with her in another show, and each time she just takes on the persona of the character like a pro,” Corry said of Madi Ogburn, the show’s Annie Oakley. A 17-year-old senior at Hilton Head High School, Ogburn has the résumé of a professional actor, which she hopes to be some day.
“My mamma says I’ve been singing since I was in the crib. I want to go to a music conservatory for college,” Ogburn said. “This summer I got to study opera in Italy. Classic voice is my thing. We studied with great choral directors and famous Italians.”
Of her character Annie, she says, “I love her. I love having a part that I had to do real historical research on, because she’s a real character. I love that she’s a girl, but she’s not real girlie. She’s a strong woman who has to take care of the kids, and she has to take care of herself. She’s haughty and she’s in love with Frank Butler, but she’s still an amazing shot, and she’s not going to let anybody get in her spotlight,” Ogburn said with a twinkle in her eye as she glances at her co-star Rodney Vaughn, who plays her love interest and professional rival Frank Butler.
In his tenth production at May River Theatre, Vaughn has immersed himself in the company’s culture. “I was so blessed to work with Jodie Dupuis (1934-2013). She was the person who put the spark in me to be all that I could be, and she said, no matter how small your role, make it your own. Make yourself the center of whatever is going on. I really do carry that with me,” Vaughn said.
In the six years since arriving from a small town in Kentucky, Vaughn has worked both behind the scenes and in front of the curtain. “I am also set designer for this show, and in my years with May River Theatre, I have done set design, costumes, and props, been assistant stage manager, and have acted,” he said.
“I knew I wanted this role. I didn’t know how the auditions would turn out, but I knew it was something that I really was aspiring to do,” Vaughn said. “And when Madi auditioned for Annie, I knew I really wanted her to be Annie. We have a great chemistry on and off the stage.
“It’s been natural the whole way,” Ogburn chimed in.
Ogburn and Vaughn are joined by a talented troupe, including Pat Morgan as Buffalo Bill, Donna Capps as Dolly, Bill Andrusic as Chief Sitting Bull, John LaVelle as Foster Wilson, and Robert Ryan as Pawnee Bill. The show has an excellent group of young actors as well, including Sadie O’Connor as Jessie, Mary Grace Swanson as Nellie, Adelaide Shirley as Minnie, and Anna Camden Shirley as Jake.
Certainly up to the challenge, and enjoying every minute, May River Theatre’s production of Annie Get Your Gun is not to be missed. Saddle up!
Reserved seating is available by calling the box office at (843) 815-5581. Box office hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets are $25.00.
Performances are Friday & Saturday evenings: November 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, and 22 at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are November 9, 16, and 23 at 3 p.m.