Monday, March 9, 2015

Annie Get Your Gun—historic Iao Theater—Maui, Hawaii



Shootin’ From the Hip

This Irving Berlin musical is directed and choreographed by Brian Swasey with musical direction by Beth Fobbe-Wills.  It plays at their space at 68 N. Market St. in Wailuku, HI.  It runs through March 22nd (warning, it is street parking so best allow time for that).  For more information, go to their site at www.mauionstage.com or call 808-242-6969.

I’ll bet that few of you out there know what famous, iconic song came from this musical.  It’s the identifying song for all Broadway musicals, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”  Ethel Merman was the original “Annie” and made that her signature song.  Betty Hutton did the film version (after Judy Garland was fired from it).  And it has been revived on Broadway more than once, the latest version with Bernadette Peters, I believe.

The story is a play within a play, much like the style of Man Of La Mancha, presenting a small group of actors portraying all the characters onstage.  Within the play, the setting is Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, an actual troupe that toured a show throughout the world, purportedly recreating the “Old West.”  It consisted of the irascible Buffalo Bill Cody (William Hubbard) himself, as well as the handsome sharp-shooter, Frank Butler (Steven Dascoulias), the wise Chief Sitting Bull (Rick Scheideman) and, of course, a backwoods gal named, Annie Oakley (Alexis Dascoulias).

And, in the play at least, there is a “half-breed Indian,” Tommy (Brock Kahoohanohano-Ambrose) who is smitten by a young lass, Winnie (Roxi J. Nelson), also the daughter of a bigoted but former love of Frank’s, Dolly (Laura Cole).  And the thorn in their side is the competing Show, lead by the equally cantankerous, Pawnee Bill (Joel Agnew).  And the Ringmaster/Narrator that pulls the whole story together is the patient Charlie Davenport (Tully O’Reilly).

On the surface, the two leads, Annie and Frank, seemed engaged in a constant “pissing” contest, as to who is the better shot.  But underneath it all, there is an instant love at first meeting.  The story is also about blossoming of an individual, regardless of gender or culture, to have the rights and freedoms of everyone else.  Annie stakes her claim for women and Tommy and Sitting Bull for the Native American.  And, in a way, so do the leaders of the troupes, for a dying way of life that must inevitably make way for “progress” into a brave new world.

One of the most amazing things about the complicated staging of this production is that there are no weak links.  Everything works!  There is a whole lot of talent in Maui and seems to be focused in this show.  Kudos to the director, Swasey, for utilizing this small stage to accommodated so much traffic and action and still have the story and characters understandable.  The tiny group of musicians, Fobbe-Wills, Kim Vetterli, Clay Logue and Perry Gragas are first-rate.  And the set, Mark C. Koski and costume designers, Roxi & Vicki Nelson gave a colorful and seamless flow to the show.

And the popular songs are still there, such as the above mentioned icon and “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and “Anything You Can Do.”  But, as well done as all the numbers were, the rousing showstopper for me was Annie’s (A. Dascoulias) rendition of “Can’t Get a Man…,” mainly because of her extraordinary singing talent!

A common fault with productions of these older musicals is that they are often played for the glitz and glamour, leaving the characters to be just a shell of the true nature of the story.  Thankfully, not so with this production.  All the characters are presented as very real people, which seems to come first in the interpretation, as it should be.  I applaud this troupe for giving us a story that is not only entertaining but also has soul.  It is a story in which the quill has been dipped, not into an ink well, but into the heart, and written in blood.

What usually are throw-away roles in these productions, the young lovers, are well presented here by Nelson and Kahoohanohano-Ambrose.  Also the younger children, playing the brother, Beckham Westphal, and sisters of Annie, Madison Casteel and Lily Janneck, definitely held their own onstage and show talent for future artistic endeavors.  Cole acts and sings her part well, playing the gal you love to hate.  O’Reilly, Scheideman and Agnew do well in filling out their colorful characters.  And Hubbard has an eerie resemblance to the real Old West icon and does well in presenting him.

S. Dascoulias, as Butler, has a great singing voice, sounding almost operatic, and is a pleasure to hear him trill onstage, especially in “The Girl That I Marry.” A difficult character, because his character is not likable but, as he presents it, a vulnerable man, who is definitely in love and, thus, willing to change.  Well done.

And A. Dascoulias, as Annie, is a true treasure for the stage!  The highlight for me in her singing was, as mentioned, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.”  Also she has the right look for the role and is totally convincing in her acting of the part.  I did get a chance to see an excerpt of Merman doing the role, all bugles and brass, but not believable as a person.  This young lady, I believe, is better.  She certainly has all the right stuff for the singing and adds that, sometimes elusive, truth in which you feel you can identify with her, as you sense you are seeing a real human being before you.  Bravo…with many more to come, I’m sure!

All volunteer theatres, like this one, could not only use your support as an audience but also some financial backing.  This one is certainly worthy of that kind of attention.  I highly recommend this show.  If you do see, it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.
The Maui Experience
Myself, my blog manager, Jennifer and her husband, Rick, as well as friends, John & Jim and Mia all went to Maui to witness a wedding of some friends, Michaelo and Jessica Ross.  The wedding was beautiful, as well as my first exposure to Maui.  My fondest take-away were the sights and smells of the tropical flowers and trees, as well as the trills of the birds.

We also went to a luau, the Feast at Lele, www.feastatlele.com or call 667-5353, which was on the beach and included foods from Hawaii, Aotearoa, Tahiti and Samoa, as well as entertainment from those cultures including a fire dancer.  It is well worth the time to visit.

We also went to Mama’s Fish House, which had an amazing view of the ocean as well as some terrific drinks and food.  And some Whale Watching and an Aquarium sponsored by the non-profit, Pacific Whale Foundation, www.pacificwhale.org   Both of these trips are well worth your time and support.