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There's No Business like Show Business," "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun," "I Got the Sun in the Morning," "Anything You Can Do" -- of course, that's only a partial list of the timeless hit songs from Annie Get Your Gun. They are the kind of songs that almost seem a part of one's genetic makeup. And yet the story of how they were written could be an episode from that ranky-tank showbiz world the play presents.

Irving Berlin rose from the humblest Jewish immigrant background to become a successful songwriter. His musical education was apparently limited to picking out tunes on an old upright in a bowery bar, where he made pennies singing ballads for the customers. Even in old age, he could only play in the key of F flat!

In any case, Rodgers and Hammerstein were producing a musical about Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show. Jerome Kern was writing the music. But he died. They asked Berlin to take over. He was scared and took off for Atlantic City to think things over. He also wrote some trial songs (including a few of those listed above). When he played them for Rodgers and Hammerstein, he got the job.

Annie Get Your Gun went on to become the big hit of 1946. Berlin gave Ethel Merman (who played Annie) some ballads that didn't have any comic frills to them. It was the first time Merman sang honest feelings straight out. As she put it, "Irving Berlin made a lady out of me!" A very modern lady, one might add -- for Annie is a proto-feminist country girl. She stops drubbing her beau in shooting matches in order to spare his pride and win his affections. But she remains a formidable dame, for all her self-restraint.

Annie, in the formidable and personable figure of Ashleigh Hoppe, is currently knocking down the clay pigeons -- not to mention shooting eggs off a poodle's head -- at NORD Theater. If there is anyone out there who does not know Annie's story, here's a quick summary. Annie picks up the challenge issued by sharpshooter Frank Butler, who is one of the stars of Buffalo Bill's traveling troupe. She does so well, she is signed up as Butler's assistant. A 20-gauge romance ensues, as well as a European tour. Annie is adopted by Chief Sitting Bull and becomes a Sioux -- in a rousing tom-tom number that would probably be picketed, if it weren't so venerable (and also so harmlessly amusing).

Annie Get Your Gun, like most NORD shows, is curiously beyond judgment. There are so many inconsistencies that inconsistency become a part of the charm. Some of the cast are clearly newcomers to the stage. Some are absurdly young for the parts they play. But, somehow, it doesn't matter. Unaccountably, you relax and have a good time. I should add that many of the musical numbers are sung with a great deal of brio. The enjoyment the performers take in what they're doing is infectious. If you like "slick," NORD is not for you. But NORD almost always wins me over. It certainly did this time.

Under Melissa Lyons' direction, the young cast of 22 creates a contentious backstage world from the last century. Some of the standouts are Dwayne Sepcich as Annie's sweetheart, Frank Butler, and Querido Arias as Cody's right-hand man.

It is a strange and sad feeling to enter the Ty Tracy Theater now that its namesake, who ran it for so many years, is no longer with us. But those feelings soon dissipate. For the torch has been passed on to the greatly talented and energetic Ricky Graham, who is a NORD alumnus. The NORD spirit has clearly survived.

Speaking of Ricky Graham, he wrote the book and lyrics for Chicken Little, recently done in fine fashion at Teddy's Corner of Le Petit. In a bright, attractive farmland set (by Bill Walker), a cast of eight beasties cavorted and sang the catchy tunes of the late Fred Palmisano. But Rooster Booster, Henny Penny, Turkey Lurkey, Goosey Lucy, Ducky Lucky and Chicken Little all looked like nothing more than a feathered feast to Foxy Loxy. Luckily, not to his wife, Foxy Roxy; she was a vegetarian. Anyway, much fun was had by the audience that ranged, as they say, from 6 to 60. Under Sean Patterson's direction, Greg Stratton, Jennifer Richardson, Heather Griffith, Erika Hamburg, Robin Baudier, Leslie Limberg, Danny Marin and Amanda Zirkenback put on a lively laugh-fest with this musical for kids.

click to enlarge Annie Oakley (Ashleigh Hoppe) learns Native American customs from Sitting Bull (Reginald D. Lee) in NORD Theater's current production, Annie Get Your Gun.
  • Annie Oakley (Ashleigh Hoppe) learns Native American customs from Sitting Bull (Reginald D. Lee) in NORD Theater's current production, Annie Get Your Gun.
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