After a beguiling season opener, Beauty and the Beast, it's back to business as usual at the Muny. Annie Get Your Gun, Irving Berlin' rip-roaring songfest about sharpshooter Annie Oakley, has been gunned down by that dreary "come-to-the-footlights-and-play-it-out-front" staging that is director Paul Blake's mantra. The result is a lifeless evening.
It's unfair to import top Broadway talent like Liz Larsen (Annie Oakley) and Brian d'Arcy James (Frank Butler), and then stick them into an inflated community-theater production. Their costumes are criminal. At the top of Act Two, Larsen looks like a life-size kewpie doll in a gown that Bette Davis might have worn in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? James' costumes are all so ugly, he should receive hazard pay for having to put them on. But it's not just the leads who are saddled with absurd garb. The cowboys in the chorus who are forced to wear purple and fuschia tights look as if they'd be more at home in The Gay Caballero.
Among the supporting performers, Bruce Adler is able to salvage some fun from Sitting Bull. As Annie's brother Little Jake, we can only assume that eleven-year-old Jimmy McEvoy hasn't yet learned how to take direction. He doesn't play any of his lines out front, which explains why the scene where Jake teaches Annie to read provides the evening's most disarming moment.
Every time the production begins to succumb to its own inertia, along comes another classic song. One of the highlights is the duet "They Say It's Wonderful," if only because Larsen and James finally are allowed to look at each other while they sing. It's a delight, not only to listen to James sing, but also to watch him. Sometimes it's as if his lips aren't even moving, yet out comes this gorgeous sound. How does he do that?
If only the entire evening were so effortless.