Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

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May 15, 2014

REVIEW: 'Annie' never without warmth

CROSSVILLE — What a privilege to see Kellye Cash as Annie Oakley in the current production of "Annie Get Your Gun" on the mainstage of the Cumberland County Playhouse. Her energy and warmth lift the audience throughout the show. With his fine voice, Britt Hancock brings sharpshooter rival Frank Butler to life. His emotions come through whether in his solo, "Bad, Bad Man" or in duets with Cash on "The Girl That I Marry" and "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better."

Unable to be present on opening night, I sought the skills of a woman visiting Uplands Village.

The Playhouse was a new experience for her. She was impressed with the music. I knew Ron Murphy and his nine-piece pit orchestra would be superb. She was pleasantly surprised. She commented that Kellye Cash can really belt out a song and found her singing of "I Got Lost in His Arms" at the beginning of the second act quite moving. She found the staging suited the play well.

Appreciation for the work of Katy Fagiolo as well as the direction of Weslie Webster and the trust of Jim Crabtree is obvious as one reads the biographical material cast members have submitted. Many added a “thank you” to Katy, Weslie and Jim.

Weslie Webster has directed this 40-person cast with great skill. From young Levi Bailey and Simon Bergman, who play Little Jake Oakley, to the several senior citizens in the cast, she has guided each to understand both their particular character and their part in the ensemble. The Blue Cast of the Oakley children was playing when I saw the show. Katey Dailey, Caroline Daughtry, Braxton King, Kaydi McCausland and Levi Bailey were delightful. Dailey, a frequent cast member, is used to being the mother figure for her siblings when Annie, the eldest, is away. Cash was beautiful in relating caringly to each of child as well as to all of the cast members.

Bill Frey looks like Buffalo Bill himself as he opens the show singing "There's No Business Like Show Business." Frey has previously been seen in minor but important roles on this stage. In this production, a fuller range of his talents is exhibited as he brings Buffalo Bill to life. The script has been adapted over the years. As he presides over the Wild West Show, this version of William F. Cody has softened his attitude toward the Native Americans. Jason Ross is hilarious as Chief Sitting Bull. The fact that his head-dress seems to have a life of its own makes him even funnier. He comments that there was too much oil under the reservation, the government must take it back, bringing new emphasis on being “an Indian giver.” Maybe they will open a gambling hall, Sitting Bull suggests. Chaz Sanders, Malachi Banegas and Tommy Olivo are delightful as Running Deer, Eagle Feather and Pawnee Bill.

The ensemble has a major role in "Annie Get Your Gun," whether in the ballroom at the Hotel Brevoort in New York City or at the shooting match between Annie and Frank, they are fully involved and important to the action. This ensemble includes: Terri Ritter, Carol Skiles, Judy Murphy, Carol Irvin, Jordyn Baxley, Tommy Olivo, Skip Ritter, Zach Steele, Chandler Bohannon, Phil Powell, and Trey Norrod.

In addition to her remarkable choreography of the total show, Leila Nelson has created some fine dance sequences featuring Caitlin Schaub, Jensen Crain, Darbi Banegas, Moriah McRae, DeAnna Etchison, Anna Baker, Chaz Sanders, Malachi Banegas, Michael Ruff, Austin Price, Daniel Black and Derek Wagner. After all their years on stage together, it was a treat to have Price and Nelson as Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate together singing "Who Do You Love, I Hope."

In researching the history of this show, I learned Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert wanted to create a vehicle for her friend Ethel Merman to bring the legendary Annie Oakley to life. Fields planned to write the lyrics herself. When she approached Irving Berlin to write the music, she realized his preference for creating both lyrics and music. He studied the script and quickly offered "Doin' What Comes Naturally," "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." Finding these were suited to Merman's abilities, Berlin went on to compose the rest of the music.

I saw Ethel Merman in this show on Broadway when I was a teenager. I remember Annie as powerful, even a little frightening. She was one tough lady. Cash brings us an Annie Oakley with a lot of bravado who is never without warmth.

The music of the dozen songs is familiar. I sang along under my breath on many of them.

Having watched Britt Hancock and Kellye Cash together in "Ring of Fire," the Johnny Cash musical, it was a fine experience to see them in another show.

You may have seen "Annie Get Your Gun" on stage. Maybe you have seen the movie. But, if you haven't seen this fine production, call for your tickets. It runs until July 11 and is rated G. Those visiting grandchildren will enjoy it, too.

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