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Annie Get Your Gun

YEEEEEEEEE HAWWWWWWWWW! Live Theater is making its way back to the Great Bright Way. Today marks 50 DAYS till we finally get to celebrate Broadway’s biggest night of the year….. the 74th Annual Tony Awards. This past year alone has been really rough with the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected this magical place we call home. So many shows from the 2019-2020 season have opened. There were other shows that were just starting their runs. Of course, there were the shows that did NOT even begin performances yet. With ongoing safety precautions, we are taking things in that slow and steady approach as we get closer each day to those curtains rising once more. That first night for most shows….especially our favorite musicals is going to be an emotional magical evening. Anyways, to get us in the mood of the Great Bright Way making its comeback and celebrating the Tony Awards in just 50 DAYS….. we at New York Broadway Tours are once again proud to present our TOP 5o TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN!!! Each morning, we will be waking you up each morning playing many of our favorite show stopping performances from previous Tony telecasts. You’ll also discover the history of these beloved shows we know in love. Without further or do…. LET’S GO ON WITH THE SHOW!!
Speaking of saying LET’S GO ON WITH THE SHOW, kicking it all off at # 50 is a classic Musical that truly believes in the spirit of that mantra. We are about to take you deep into the Wild Wild West following the life of one of the most famed sharp shooters in American History….. Annie Oakley. We are talking about the Great American classic that hits the ENTERTAINMENT BULLSEYE itself….. Annie Get Your Gun. The show features a renowned score by Irving Berlin along with a book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields.
From the 1999 telecast. the legendary Bernadette Peters in the titular role of “Annie Oakley”, Tom Wopat as “Frank Butler”, and the cast of that year’s revival take us to the ultimate Wild West Reception at the Hotel Brevoort. Here they are performing a medley of 2 of the musical’s notable classics I GOT THE SUN IN THE MORNING and AN OLD FASHION WEDDING.
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was first conceived by Dorothy Fields who wanted to create a musical about the famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley for her friend and celebrated powerhouse Ethel Merman. After a rocky start with producer Mike Todd, Fields approached a new producing team….. Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II (who had just come off the success of their breakout debut musical OKLAHOMA!). Along with continuing to become successful writers, Rodgers & Hammerstein became Theater entrepreneurs going into the world of producing for both their new shows and other authors. They immediately got attached to the project asking acclaimed songwriter Jerome Kern to do the score. At the same time, Dorothy Fields would do the lyrics along with co-writing the book with her brother Herbert. However, tragedy struck just 3 DAYS after beginning work on the musical….. Jerome Kern suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while walking at the corner of Park Avenue and 57th Street. He was hospitalized and died a week later.
Following Kern’s tragic passing, Rodgers & Hammerstein reached out to Irving Berlin in taking over on the project. However, he originally refused to do the project due to fear of not being able to write certain songs that would be the perfect fit for each scene. Oscar Hammerstein II mentored Berlin in helping him study the script which eventually led to inspiration for some of the musical’s notable songs today including DOIN’ WHAT COMES NATURALLY and the show’s anthem THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS. The songs themselves were perfect for BOTH the script and Ethel Merman’s vocal chops. At the same time, Dorothy Fields agreed to step down as the lyricist focusing on the book. The work continued for the team till the show was ready.
Finally on May 16th, 1946, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN made its Broadway debut at the Imperial Theatre running for 1, 146 performances. Under the direction of Joshua Logan, the original production was led by….
Ethel Merman in her signature performance as “Annie Oakley”,
Ray Middleton (later Milton Watson) as “Frank Butler”,
William O’Neal as “Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody”,
Marty May as “Charlie Davenport”,
Lea Penman as “Dolly Tate”,
Harry Bellaver (later Bert Freed) as “Chief Sitting Bull”,
Kenny Bowers as “Tommy Keeler”,
Betty Anne Nyman as “Winnie Tate”,
George Lipton as “Pawnee Bill”,
and more.
The original production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN did not receive any Tony Award nominations or wins. The Tonys was created a year later in 1947.
With the success of the original Broadway run, the show went on to become a worldwide phenomenon. It embarked on a North American National Tour that following year of 1947 (starring Mary Martin as the title role), in London’s West End (starring Dolores Gray) playing the London Coliseum for 1,304 performances, and in Australia (starring Evie Hayes). It also launched various productions worldwide including Paris and Mexico.
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN would later be revived several times on the New York stage including 2 BROADWAY REVIVALS.
The 1st Broadway revival of the musical happened in 1966. It played the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center Theater for a strictly limited engagement of 78 performances. This version was abridged. Several songs, storyline, and characters were cut including the love story between “Tommy Keeler” and “Winnie Tate”. This production would later go on a short 10 week North American National Tour. Under the direction of Jack Sydow, the cast was led by….
Ethel Merman reprising her performance as “Annie Oakley”,
Bruce Yarnell as “Frank Butler”,
Rufus Smith as “Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody”,
Jerry Orbach as “Charlie Davenport”,
Benay Venutta who previously appeared in the 1950 film version reprising the role as “Dolly Tate”,
Harry Bellaver reprising his performance as “Chief Sitting Bull”,
Jack Dabdoub as “Pawnee Bill”,
and more.
This revival was nominated for 2 Tony Awards that year including BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL (for Jack Sydow) and BEST CHOREOGRAPHY (for Danny Daniels). However, it lost both its categories.
From there, the show went on to continue launching more productions around the world including 2 West End revivals both in 1986 (starring Suzi Quatro) and 1992 (starring Kim Criswell).
The most recent ON Broadway revival of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN happened in 1999. Following a triumphant out-of-town tryout at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in our Nation’s Capitol of Washington D.C., it made its way to Broadway’s Marquis Theatre where it ran for 35 previews and 1,045 regular performances. This version was a fully updated take on the musical for this generation. The book was revised by Peter Stone being structured as a “Show within a show” vibe using Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a traveling big-top circus act. Notable changes included the show opening with THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS (replacing the initial opening number COLONEL BUFFALO BILL) featuring “Frank Butler” singing and “Buffalo Bill” himself introducing and narrating the story. The “Tommy” and “Winnie” love story was put back in. Under the direction of Graciela Danielle, the cast of this revival was led by….
Bernadette Peters (later Susan Lucci, Cheryl Ladd, Reba McEntire, and Crystal Bernard) as “Annie Oakley”,
Tom Wopat (later Brent Barrett and Patrick Cassidy) as “Frank Butler”,
Ron Holgate (later Dennis Kelly, Conrad John Schuck, and Christopher Councill) as “Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody”,
Peter Marx as “Charlie Davenport”,
Valerie Wright (later Michelle Blakely and Kerry O’Malley) as “Dolly Tate”,
Gregory Zaragoza (later Larry Storch) as “Chief Sitting Bull”,
Andrew Palermo (later Randy Donaldson, Eric Scottio, and Craig D’Amico) as “Tommy Keeler”,
Nikki Snelson (later Emily Rozek and Claci Miller) as “Winnie Tate”,
Ron Caroll (later Gerry Vicchi) as “Pawnee Bill”,
and more.
This legendary revival of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was nominated for 3 Tony Awards that same year of 1999. It won 2 out of the 3 categories for BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL and BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (marking the 2nd win for Bernadette Peters). Its cast album also won the Grammy Award for BEST MUSICAL SHOW ALBUM. It also took home a Drama Desk Award both in 1999 (for OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL for Peters) and 2001 (getting the SPECIAL AWARD for Reba McEntire when she took over).
There have continued to be many more productions of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN everywhere around the world.
The recent New York production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN served as a concert production at New York City Center for its annual GALA show. Under the direction of John Rando, this cast was led by….
Megan Hilty as “Annie Oakley”,
Andy Karl as “Frank Butler”,
Ron Raines as “Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody”,
Brad Oscar as “Charlie Davenport”,
Judy Kaye as “Dolly Tate”,
Marshall Factora as “Chief Sitting Bull”,
Chuck Cooper as “Pawnee Bill”,
and more.
Along with its triumph on stage, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was also a triumphant success on the Big Screen.
The original film version was released in 1950 from MGM. However, its jump from stage to screen had tons of Behind the Scenes drama. The original budget for this film was $1.5 million with $600,000 payable to Irving Berlin and Dorothy and Herbert Fields to use BOTH the score and book. Produced by Arthur Freed, the film was initially made for and starred Judy Garland in the role of “Annie Oakley”. At the time, Garland was extremely exhausted from film after film after film at MGM. She insisted on taking 6 months off to recover and recharge. However, the studio refused, forced and threw her right into the movie causing her to feel exhausted, get more sick, and grumpy. The worst situation was that the film’s original director and choreographer was Busby Berkeley. Previously, Garland worked with his tyrannical director on various MGM films including STRIKE UP THE BAND and GIRL CRAZY (which Berkeley previously got fired after causing her to faint). There were days where Garland NOT showed up to set, arrived late, and had several walk outs….. She refused to work with Busy Berkley. With the reports of the un-professionalism, Garland would be BOTH fired from the film and it also officially terminated her contract from MGM. The news of Garland’s termination caused her to even cause a few suicide attempts (which included breaking a glass and slashing her throat in the bathroom). Berkeley would be fired as well. Along with the whole Judy Garland drama, her former Wizard of Oz co-star Frank Morgan (who was originally tapped to play “Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody” unexpectedly died of a heart attack in the midst while shooting. After a rocky start, MGM put together a full new package for the film. With new direction by George Sidney, the cast was led by….
Betty Hutton (replacing Judy Garland) as “Annie Oakley”,
Howard Keel as “Frank Butler”,
Louis Calhern as “Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody”,
Keenan Wynn as “Charlie Davenport”,
Benay Venutta as “Dolly Tate”,
J. Carol Naish as “Chief Sitting Bull”,
Edward Arnold as “Pawnee Bill”,
and more.
The film went on to become one of the most successful movie musicals of all time. During its initial release, it earned over $4,708,000 in the US and Canada and $3,048,000 overseas, resulting in a profit of $1,061,000. It also was nominated for 4 Oscars winning 1 for BEST MUSIC SCORING.
The musical would also be captured on film an additional 2 times.
6 years after the original film’s release, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was captured on film again. This time, it was done as a critically acclaimed live TV production in 1957 on NBC. Under the direction of Vincente J. Donehue, the cast was led by….
Mary Martin (direct from the 1st National Tour) as “Annie Oakley”,
John Raitt as “Frank Butler”,
William O’Neal reprising his original Broadway role as “Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody”,
Donald Burr as “Charlie Davenport”,
Reta Shaw as “Dolly Tate”,
Norman Edwards as “Tommy Keeler”,
Susan Luckey as “Winnie Tate”,
Zachary Charles as “Chief Sitting Bull”,
Robert Nash as “Pawnee Bill”,
and more.
This 1957 live production was nominated for 1 Emmy Award for BEST LIVE CAMERA WORK.
The previous filmed presentation of the musical would happen in 1966…. It was an abbreviated 90 minute version of that year’s Lincoln Center Theatre revival that also aired on NBC. It starred the full cast of that revival (including Ethel Merman as “Annie Oakley”).
Today, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN has been continued to be performed in schools. Community, and Regional Theaters everywhere. There are 2 VERSIONS that are available for licensing consisting…. The 1966 revival for Amateur Performers and the 1999 revival. Truly a celebration of SHOW BUSINESS!!!
How about that toe-tapping performance?

Annie Get Your Gun – YouTube

Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber

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