Olympic athlete turned musical stage star Cathy Rigby gives a savvy and spirited performance as a pint-sized, pistol-packing Annie Oakley in this attractive revival of the 1946 Irving Berlin classic.
Directed with equal measures of wit and respect by Susan H. Schulman (“The Secret Garden”), the production is kicking off an extended, reportedly Broadway-bound tour with a debut engagement under the auspices of the Houston Grand Opera.
Opening-nighters were given a thoroughly professional but occasionally draggy (especially in the first half) performance, indicating Schulman has not yet brought the revival up to speed.
But Rigby is in fine form as the sharpshooting star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and she’s backed with a first-rate ensemble.
The musical itself has lost little if any of its luster during the 46 years since its Broadway debut.
The actress offers a nifty mix of tomboyish swagger, schoolgirlish sweetness, rustic gumption and small-town naivete.
To be sure, she will erase no one’s memories of Ethel Merman’s full-throated approach to the fabulous score. Still, Rigby evidences a clear-voiced charm all her own.
As Frank Butler, the cocksure marksman who finds it hard to love a woman who’s a much better shot, lean and lanky Michael DeVries starts out as a walking , talking sight gag each time he stands next to the comparatively tiny Rigby. But he winds up making a seriously romantic and generally winning impression.
Among supporting players, standouts include Paul V. Ames, Gil Rogers and, best of all, Mauricio Bustamante as a very funny, de-stereotyped Sitting Bull.
The production has taken a slightly politically correct approach to the material, dropping the potentially offensive lyrics to “I’m an Indian, Too” (but saving the music for a dance number), and changing a few lines to keep marksman Frank Butler from seeming like a complete sexist clod.
Also deleted are two minor numbers, “I’ll Share It All With You” and “Who Do You Love, I Hope,” and the characters who sang them. The changes work to the production’s benefit.
Native American sensibilities are respected throughout this revival, which has a showstopping “Indian Ceremony” number complete with costumes from South Dakota’s Brule Sioux Tribe Arts and Crafts Co-Operative.
Set designers Heidi Landesman and Joel Reynolds worked wonders in their efforts to vividly evoke the visual flair of advertising posters for late-19 th-century Wild West shows. Indeed, the entire production often appears to be a Wild West poster suddenly, magically, brought to life.