Bringing ANNIE GET YOUR GUN to the Plaza stage – a Director’s Journey Part 2

We thought it would be fun for our patrons and fans to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process a Director goes through in bringing a large musical to the Plaza stage. To that end, we have asked Kyle Macy, Director of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, to provide a weekly blog about his Director’s journey. This is Part Two of his Director’s Journey blog. — Plaza Producers

Annie Got Her Blog

Volume 2

When directing, I find it interesting to research everything I can about a production.  Finding old drafts of scripts, cut songs, production photos, and reviews provide a great insight into why a show is the way it is, and how it ended up that way.

There was the original Broadway production, which came after several movie treatments of the life of Annie Oakley, and even two films made by the real Buffalo Bill, only one of which exists in its entirety today.   Not to mention the thousands of dime novels and serials that had been written about these two folks.  There were so many stories about these celebrities that it was inevitable that a stage adaptation would follow, in this case in musical form (although there were plays as well, some of which starred the real Annie and Bill).

The original production, once assigned to Irving Berlin by Rogers and Hammerstein, almost fell apart as Berlin felt that writing songs to fit a specific story would essentially cramp his style.  Eventually persuaded to accept the job, Berlin wrote music and lyrics while Dorothy Fields and her brother wrote the book for her friend Ethel Merman.  They also published a straight adaptation that Dorothy felt was just as strong without Berlin’s music.

The original book is much more true to what life was like for the traveling shows of the time.  The town would get hit by the publicity troupe first, who would generate interest/excitement until the arrival of the troupe, who would parade through town, leading folks to the performance venue.   The revival version of the script resets the entire production inside a circus tent, and uses Wild West pageantry to cover scenic changes.

Other changes from the original to the Peter Stone revival version include changing the relationships of the secondary characters of Tommy and Winnie.  Tommy was originally the nephew of Buffalo Bill, and Winnie was Dolly’s daughter, instead of sister.   The treatment of all “Indian” references was addressed as well.   The butt of most punch-lines, all offensive jokes were struck including the song “I’m an Indian, Too” which includes what some consider playful pokes at Native American society with names like “Running Nose, Son-of-a-Bear, Falling Pants, Hole-in-the-Ground, and Hatchet Face” as well as gibberish language.  This song alone prompted protests outside both Broadway and eventually cinemas where the movie adaptation was shown.

What is interesting to consider is how clever Buffalo Bill was in some aspects of his marketing.  Always one to take advantage of the latest technological trends, he was one of the first to use electricity to light his show at night, made excellent use of newspapers, magazines, and eventually films to promote his productions.  An advocate for the rights of Native Americans as well as women, he was a pioneer of social change.  Biographer Larry McMurtry wrote an excellent book that chronicles the fame of Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, whom he considers to be the first American, if not worldly, superstars.

However, if Annie Oakley were alive today, she would sue Broadway and win.  While one can expect a bit of artistic license in creating a theatrical biography, AGYG is only very loosely based on the real Annie Oakley.  Phoebe Ann Moses (her real name) was the daughter of Quakers who moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio for a better life.  While proud of her sharpshooting skills, Annie would never brag or showboat the way her “character” does.  Nor would she ever wear anything but modest Victorian style attire.   In fact, Annie spent much of her fortune suing over 55 newspapers who “erroneously” published stories about her that she shoplifted to sell items for her cocaine addiction.   Feminists would attempt to secure her in their cause to no avail.  While she advocated for women to be able to handle themselves with a gun, she would refrain from political activity.

Also, the timetable of events is very much off, out of order, or made up.  For example – Sitting Bull did indeed meet Annie and call her Little Sure Shot, but he only stayed with the Wild West Show for four months.    Annie was also not the only female sharpshooter, nor even the first, and was wary of others in the same show with her.

In any event, discovering the real people involved in this story has been intriguing, and Plaza’s production of AGYG will endeavor to find a balance between presenting historically accurate information when possible, as well as the fun storytelling.    This revival version production will feature one cut song added back in to enhance the character arc for one of the men.   As of now, all the other numbers and verses are still in as well, but as rehearsals turn into runs, some things may fall under the knife for the sake of time.

How much of the production concept will make it from the page to the stage?  What bumps will be encountered in the next weeks?  Plans and designs are all well and good, but once budgets and build times get determined, things often change.  Drastically.   Check back again in a week to see how well things are faring.

Kyle Macy – Director, Annie Get Your Gun

    • Kyle Macy
    • January 11th, 2011

    If anyone has any questions about any aspect of this production, any of the team would be glad to answer them in the next blog….

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