BERLIN: Annie Get Your Gun
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Annie Get Your Gun
Original 1946 Broadway Cast and 1950 Film Soundtrack
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Annie Get Your Gun began, like many of thegreatest musicals, with a series of unexpectedevents - some happy, some not.
Dorothy Fields was a woman at loose endsearly in 1945. Her latest show, Up In CentralPark, had opened on 27 January, and althoughthe book she wrote with her brother Herbertand her own lyrics had both been warmlyreceived, she felt restless.
Her good buddy Ethel Merman wasdepressed after the recent closing of her firstflop, Sadie Thompson, and wanted Fields towrite a new show for her. Dorothy was willing,but couldn't come up with a single idea.
One night, she was wandering aroundBroadway with Herbert when they passed byone of those shooting galleries where the sharpeyedand steady-handed can win stuffed animalsby the score. A young GI on leave was doingjust that and his lady love was positivelyweighed down with a plush menagerie.
'That might make a cute story,' suggestedHerbert.
'Why does it always have to be the manwho's the marksman?' bristled Dorothy. 'Haven'tthey ever heard of Annie Oakley?'She stopped dead in her tracks.
'Oh my God! Annie Oakley. The Merm.'That's all she had to say. It had only beenfifteen years since Merman made her Broadwaydebut in Girl Crazy, but she was already anicon, with hits like \Anything Goes" and"DuBarry Was A Lady" to her credit.
Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley: it was an ideathat everyone adored. Merman was the first tosign on. Then Rodgers and Hammerstein agreedto produce. Jerome Kern offered to write thescore and Joshua Logan was set to direct.
There actually was an Annie Oakley, by theway. She was a farm girl from Iowa and her realname was Annie Moses but she adopted 'Oakley'as her stage name. She fell in love with her rival(who really was named Frank Butler) and theytoured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show from1880 to 1901.
Annie Oakley, as the team originally calledtheir show,was set to go into rehearsal early in1946.
Then, on 4 November 1945,Kern suffered astroke, dying a week later.
The interesting thing is how no one thoughtof abandoning the show; they all felt the initialconcept was that solid.
Rodgers and Hammerstein decided to starttheir search for a replacement at the top - withIrving Berlin, a man who had been riding highsince he wrote "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in1911.
The canny Berlin liked the show's book aswell as the idea of composing for Merman, buthe shared his worries with Oscar Hammerstein.
'Annie is a hillbilly and I've never writtencountry music in my life. I wouldn't knowwhere to start.'Hammerstein dryly suggested that all Berlinhad to do was drop the final 'g' from his lyricsand he'd do just fine.
Berlin wasn't convinced, but he vowed totry. In the dead of winter, he went off toAtlantic City for a weekend and came back withfive songs: Doin' What Comes Naturally, YouCan't Get A Man With A Gun, The Girl ThatI Marry, They Say It's Wonderful andThere's No Business Like Show Business.
Needless to say, the show went ahead withBerlin as its songwriter.
Merman got a strong leading man to playFrank Butler when they cast Ray Middleton. Atthat point he was a seasoned Broadway veteranwith shows like Roberta, KnickerbockerHoliday and Winged Victory to his credit as wellas the distinction of having been the first actorever to play Superman. (In a 1940 radiobroadcast at the World's Fair.)Director Logan so admired their chemistrytogether that he suggested Berlin write them achallenge song. He did during a 5-minute cabrideand the result was Anything You Can Do.
They changed the title to Annie Get YourGun, and rehearsals proved to be a joy. The outof town tryout was a love-fest and only twoproblems occurred. Berlin was unhappy withthe original orchestrations of Ted Royal, so bothRobert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang had tobe enlisted to save the day.
The other difficulty happened when theywere hanging the lavish scenery of Jo Mielzinerin the Imperial Theatre just prior to the NewYork opening. A structural beam snapped fromthe weight and they had to delay the show twoweeks to fix it. They quickly booked it intoPhiladelphia and buffed it to a high gloss.
Opening night on Broadway was 16 May1946 and the critical reviews were love lettersfor Merman. Brooks Atkinson of the New YorkTimes astonishingly derided Berlin's songs as'undistinguished', which is surely one of the badjudgment calls of all time.
The show went on to run 1147 performancesand when someone told Berlin it was oldfashioned,he had the last word.
'You're right,' he said. 'It's a good oldfashionedsmash.'The show was recorded on the Decca labelin May of 1946, under the direction of theBroadway conductor, Jay Blackton. Merman andMiddleton recreated their roles, of course, as didthe three backup singers on MoonshineLullaby, including a 24 year-old Leon Bibb,whowent on to a substantial career as a folk-singerand a Tony-nominated Broadway actor.
The young juveniles,Tommy and Winnie,who sing Who Do You Love, I Hope wereplayed on Broadway by Kenny Bowers and BettyAnn Nyman, both known as dancers rather thansingers. They're replaced on this recording bythe studio-savvy voices of vocal coach RobertLenn and big band singer Kathleen Carnes. Thiswas a not uncommon move from Decca's bossJack Kapp, who liked all voices in his recordingsto be 'first-rate'. Kapp also frequently left out ashow's Overture so that as many songs aspossible could fit on a 78 rpm album. That'swhat happened with Annie Get Your Gun, butin its place you'll find a 1950 medley recordedby Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.
The 1950 film version of Annie Get yourGun is best remembered now for the fact thatJudy Garland actually began production in theleading role and even pre-recorded her vocaltracks. But this was during the period whenGarland's abuse of prescription drugs wasgetting the best of her and she cracked underthe strain of delivering another big hit musical.
Production was closed down for fourmonths and when it resumed, the perky BettyHutton, best known for her comic skills,wasplaying Annie. Big-voiced Howard Keel,discovered by producer Arthur Freed in theLondon production of Oklahoma!,was anappropriate foil for her as Frank Butler.
Hutton brings a friskier, funnier quality toAnnie than Merman did, but anyone followingin Ethel's considerable footprints will fail toduplicate the same socko effect of the original- something which obviously contributed toGarland's neurosis.
Also heard on the selections featured fromthe original soundtrack recording are actorsKeenan Wynn (Charlie) and Louis Calhern(Buffalo Bill).
Another bonus on this recording is the1953 duet of Merman and Mary Martin singingThere's No Business Like Show Business,from the legendary television spectacular, TheFord 50th Anniversary Special.
Martin played Annie in the first nationalAmerican tour of the show and later starredopposite John Raitt in the 1957 NBC-TV versionof it.
There's No Business Like ShowBusiness has classic status today, but thislegendary anthem of Broadway was nearly lostto us forever. The hyper-sensitive Berlin thoughtLogan and Rodgers hadn't showed enoughenthusiasm for the song at an early meeting,and so he instructed his secretary to destroy it.
Fortunately for everyone, she was a bit slowat her job and when cooler heads prevailed, themanuscript was still safe and the song went onto thrill audiences to this day.
A fitting coda to a show that may haveneeded some time to take aim, but sure knewhow to hit the bull's-eye in the end.Richard Ouzounian