Canadian star Louise Pitre returned home in triumph as Annie Oakley after her Tony-nominated turn in “Mamma Mia!,” but the celebrations are slightly dimmed by a less-than-stellar turn from Billy Ray Cyrus as her leading man.
Apart from Cyrus’s low-wattage perf, the tuner gets a slick mounting by Donna Feore (wife of thesp Colm) in a style reminiscent of New York’s popular “Encores!” series. The 28 piece orchestra is on stage and the scenery by Michael Gianfrancesco is little more than an attractive arrangement of platforms and ramps. There is a full lighting plot, courtesy of John Munro, but it’s a little on the shadowy side and needs more musical comedy oomph.
The ensemble wear one costume throughout, while the leads get several changes. Lines have been fully memorized and no one carries a script; choreography is minimal, but effective.
It’s nice to hear the classic Berlin score played with the original orchestrations and Rick Fox leads his musicians with style. A more pleasing surprise is the book, which has been “adapted” by Stratford actor Don Carrier.
Going back to the Herbert & Dorothy Fields original, Carrier avoids the oft-criticized pitfalls of the Peter Stone version from the 199 revival. Carrier has done a certain amount of politically correct alterations to make the role of Native Americans less offense, and it works well, especially in the sly performance of Billy Merasty as Sitting Bull. The rest is judicious trimming which knocks close to a half hour of the show’s normal running time.
The production was conceived as a vehicle for Pitre and she delivers what’s needed all the way down the line. While not a Merman-esque belter, she still has a powerful set of pipes that make the most of tunes like “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” while her softer ballad chops make a showstopper out of “I Got Lost in His Arms”.
Pitre also knows how to play the country comedy just enough without tipping into caricature and her choices are real and warm throughout. Best of all, she has the star dazzle that a role like this demands.
Nice supporting work from Jonathan Wilson as a hyper Charlie and Sandra Caldwell as a sassy Dolly make these “feed” roles take on new interest. Sandy Winsby is an ingratiating Buffalo Bill and even the two kids in the company, Cameron Ansell and Myrna Conn, know how to succeed without becoming terminally cute.
The only real downer is Cyrus as Frank Butler. By his own admission, he’s never been on stage before and he was a last-minute replacement for Canadian country singer Paul Brandt who suffered a case of cold feet shortly before rehearsals started.
Still, with all his years of experience on the pop circuit, one would expect Cyrus to display more personality. He offers none of the swagger that Butler needs in order to offer Pitre a worthy love object and adversary. His vocal stylings are also distressingly soft as well; even heavily miked, his voice barely makes it into the house.
Pitre is the kind of talent who makes revivals like this worth seeing and Feore’s canny staging shows that even a “lean cuisine” approach to scenery needn’t hamper a show. Give this show a leading man with pizzazz and you’d have a production that would hit the bull’s-eye.