Annie Get Your Gun continues at the Union Theatre, London, until 17 June.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
It’s only when you work out how many unforgettable Irving Berlin tunes have been packed into one show that the enduring appeal of Annie Get Your Gun can be explained away.
At least eight Great American Songbook classics, written 71 years ago (and turned into that famous Betty Hutton movie four years later), come up as fresh as paint in this warm-hearted and extremely likeable revival which has started its month-long run at the Union.
Anyone with even a basic interest in musical theatre will be able to sing at least a few bars of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’, ‘Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly’, ‘The Girl That I Marry’, ‘You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun’’, ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’, ‘My Defences Are Down’, ‘I Got the Sun in the Morning’ and ‘Anything You Can Do’.
Nothing being written today can match that sort of percentage and even Lloyd Webber struggles to come up with more than the odd one or two likely to stand the test of time.
Berlin’s great eight doesn’t even count the ‘An Old-Fashioned Wedding’’ duet which the stars of this show, Gemma Maclean and Blair Robertson, turn into a highlight of a terrific Act II.
Director Kirk Jameson, who gave us that admirable Kander and Ebb compilation The World Goes Round at the Union a couple of years back, has hit the jackpot with his little-known leads.
They work up some brilliant chemistry, quick-on-the draw Annie falling head over heels for her swollen-headed macho partner and rival Frank Butler in Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West show.
Robertson’s easy-going, multi-layered baritone lights up Act I; Maclean, who acts beautifully, is a little underpowered vocally to start with, but comes into her own musically in Act II.
So it’s a draw, just like their stage-managed shooting match is in Buffalo Bill’s show-within-a-show. And Robertson is so handsome it’s easy to understand why Annie is so speedily smitten.
Maclean is, of course, the tough, feisty, gun-toting tomboy Annie (or Phoebe Ann Mosey, to give the character her real name because Dorothy Fields’ book was based on a true legend of America’s midwest).
Although Peter Stone’s 1999 revision ripped out insensitive material relating to Native Americans, there is still enough in the plot that won’t go down well with feminists or racists.
I prefer to review it in the spirit Berlin wrote it – as glorious, romantic entertainment. Too many of today’s critics take it out of context and themselves far too seriously.
There is much to enjoy. Ste Clough’s choreography works a treat in some highly energetic dance routines, midwest accents are scrupulously authentic, costumes are perfect, and the supporting cast generally sound.
They are headed by Mark Pollard, as a bucolic Buffalo Bill, and Lala Barlow, as Annie’s bitchy, conniving love rival Dolly.
Both do a good job, as do Daffyd Lansley, as stage manager Charlie; Lawrence Guntert, as a play-it-for-laughs Chief Sitting Bull; and Aneurin Pascoe, who signs Frank for his rival show when he walks out on Buffalo Bill, angry at Annie being given the big-star treatment ahead of him.
But the one who most catches the eye is Georgia Conlan as Dolly’s coquettish little sister Winnie, wrapped up in a subsidiary love affair with Dominic Harbison’s Tommy. It is only a small part but she makes every line count.
Musical director Alex Bellamy’s band of four have a great time with some of the greatest show tunes ever written. So will you if you venture to Southwark. Recommended.