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Though outdated, 'Annie Get Your Gun' delivers rousing songs


Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun" is about as politically incorrect as you can get these days. Not only does the script, by Herbert and Dorothy Fields, provide a retrograde, ugga-wugga-style picture of American Indians, but the heroine, Annie Oakley, only gets her man when she pretends to be less competent than he is.

Cockpit in Court's production doesn't do anything to tone down these political gaffes. To the contrary, Todd Pearthree, who directed and choreographed the show, seems to go overboard exaggerating them; the dance numbers featuring bare-midriffed squaws look like parodies, at best.

Maybe he figured, if you can't beat 'em, spoof 'em. Whatever the case, you don't go to this 1946 musical comedy for its politics. Primarily, you go to hear a slew of Berlin hits, including "They Say It's Wonderful," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Anything You Can Do," and, of course, "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun." As too often happens here, Cockpit's orchestra -- particularly the brass section -- doesn't do justice to the score, but fortunately, most of the voices do.

Annie Oakley is played by a spitfire named Holly Pasciullo. Even with her gawky, countrified antics, she's more genteel than Ethel Merman, who originated the role and credited Berlin with making a lady out of her.

But appearances can be deceiving. Ms. Pasciullo does a bold, brassy job with the novelty numbers, such as "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" and "You Can't Get a Man . . ." But when it comes to the daintier, romantic ballads, she appears to have less musical grace than spunk.

In the romance department, the edge belongs to her leading man, Mark Blackburn, in the role of Frank Butler, the competing sharpshooter who steals Annie's heart. Mr. Blackburn emits enough self-satisfied charm to make him a believable lady-killer, and he can handle the more lyrical numbers.

Mr. Pearthree has wisely included "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," the song Berlin wrote for the 1966 Merman revival. A musical duel in which Annie and Frank argue about wedding plans, it's their most delightful number and, in this production, shows off the strengths of both leads.

The production also includes several able supporting players, particularly J.R. Lyston as Buffalo Bill, Nadine Haas in the comic role of Frank's stereotyped dumb-blonde assistant, Michael Isennock as Sitting Bull and Everett C. Rose in the dual roles of a small-town hotel keeper and Buffalo Bill's competing showman, Pawnee Bill.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the set, designed by Claire Rowe, exhibits some of the best scene painting ever seen at this theater.

If you think of "Annie Get Your Gun" as a period piece, you'll probably have enough fun to overlook its outdatedness; after all, that's part of the charm of period pieces. And even a die-hard feminist can take heart from Annie's lyric: "For a man may be hot, but he's not when he's shot."

"Annie Get Your Gun" continues at Cockpit in Court through June 30; call 522-1269.

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