There's no business like show business, there really isn't... take an old Broadway musical about a Wild West show and set a new production of it inside of a Wild West show and what you get is the latest incarnation of Irving Berlin's classic Annie Get Your Gun. This production, from the Ambassador Theatre Group uses a revised book, created by Peter Stone for a Tony award-winning Broadway revival in 1999.
Buffalo Bill's Big Top is now the setting for the entire musical, the whole thing is a show within a show and is beautifully done by designer Paul Farnsworth. A great red and white tent with an orchestra at the perimeters is all that we're presented with, but a simple repositioning of boxes and lighting changes do enough to convince us of a scene change, less is definitely more here.
It's all rather unassuming, a modest production brings together a fine ensemble who work incredulously hard, they're constantly rearranging set positions, leaping, singing and providing a general sense of energy and enthusiasm to power through the dated story. How anyone at Buffalo Bill's show could have their interest sustained by a woman shooting at balloons...
That woman of course is Annie Oakley, played here by Emma Williams and she does a lot more than shoot. It's not often that one particular member of a cast shines above all others but Williams is just Doin What Comes Natur'lly to her and impresses throughout with an exciting presence and perfect voice.
Jason Donovan is Frank Butler and does enough to please fans but you can't help but think that Jonathan Wilkes, who plays the role at selected performances, may be better cast as the love interest of young Oakley. Donovan does however lead some great chorus numbers with the male ensemble, chorus routines which are perhaps the stronger moments of the show. Norman Pace is a fun addition as Buffalo Bill. There's a sweet romance between Lorna Want as Winnie Tate and Yiftach Mizrahi as Tommy Keeler that is most endearing, you wish there had been more written for them.
In all, the feel good factor remains, even if not the relevance. It is nice to see one of the older classics return to the stage in a charming revival production. It's hardly groundbreaking but then I guess there's only so much you can do now with a 1940's musical - this is probably as good a production as you're going to get. A popular one with the amateurs, this is far from something you'll have seen last summer at the church hall, it's beautifully reimagined. Emma Williams shines in a charming production at Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 5 July. Book tickets online here.
Watch the trailer below:
Cast List: Jason Donovan, Jonathan Wilkes (at selected performances), Emma Williams, Norman Pace, Dermot Canavan, Ed Currie, Kara Lane, Yiftach Mizrahi, William Oxborrow, Lorna Want, Ste Clough, Matthew Dale, Natalie Day, Flo Fields, Sarah Galbraith, Jonny Godbold, Hannah Grace, Katie Marie-Carter, Oscar Francisco, Theo Gilbert-Birch