In 2006, at the outdoor stage of the Ravinia Festival in suburban Chicago, Patti LuPone laid claim to the role of Rose in “Gypsy,” commanding enough admiration that it seemed inevitable she’d take the role to Broadway, which she did. This summer, she takes on Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun,” another role made famous by Ethel Merman and blessed with one famous song after the other. In this case, while it’s a delight to listen to her renditions of Irving Berlin’s songs — accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the musical direction of Paul Gemignani — the part doesn’t fit her like the glove Gypsy Rose Lee might peel off in a striptease.
Annie Get Your Gun
It’s not the age issue — although that alone has its distractions — but the fact that LuPone possesses, and traditionally invests her characters with, a decided knowingness. The roles she is now most famous for — Mama Rose, Mrs. Lovett, even Evita — are scheming characters, always a step ahead, and LuPone quite brilliantly exposed their layers of ambition and skillful emotional manipulations in both dialogue and song.
But watching her play naive (Annie’s paramour, Frank Butler, played by Patrick Cassidy, refers to her at one point as “simple and sweet”) is like watching Cameron Diaz play homely. She’s game, and you get the point, but the suspension of disbelief takes a strained amount of willfulness.
The straightforward airiness of director Lonny Price’s approach to this staged concert has benefits in other, absurdly outdated aspects of the 1946 show, such as the depiction of Sitting Bull (Joseph Anthony Foronda) as a cliche-spouting matchmaker. But is it really true that the notion of a woman needing to hide her gifts to appease the ego of the man she loves doesn’t continue to have contemporary resonance? That’s the implication here, because the whole notion is played not just as hokey but as positively parodic, without any convincing emotions that hit home.
Cassidy is the most innocuous, charming, gosh-darn-it sexist pig you ever will see. And he never really emits the type of gargantuan ego that’s needed to provoke sufficiently sincere lovestruck goo or competitive spirit from the ever-spunky LuPone.
But it’s still awfully nice to hear her take on “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” even with a touch of pure hokum, and “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” even with a plethora of sunniness. And Cassidy and LuPone hit the heights of any chemistry with “Anything You Can Do.”
Gemignani breathes full life into the score, and LuPone grips onto the extraordinary melodies with her natural husky-smoky voice and sophisticated phrasings. But auds will be forgiven for wishing someone would unzip Annie Oakley’s costumes to reveal a black cocktail dress and give LuPone a stool, a handheld microphone and a martini.