Kirkwood Theatre Guild (KTG) will raise the curtain once again on "Annie Get Your Gun" on May 3. When the guild first presented the classic Irving Berlin musical during the 1979-80 season, sitting in the audience was Kirkwood High School senior John McDaniel.
McDaniel had always loved "Annie Get Your Gun" because of the songs like "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Anything You Can Do." After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, he moved to New York where he pursued a career in music and theatre.
Since moving to New York, McDaniel has become a Grammy and two-time Emmy Award-winning music director, composer, arranger, orchestrator and theatrical and record producer. Nineteen years after seeing KTG's production, McDaniel created the musical arrangements for the 1999 revival of "Annie Get Your Gun" on Broadway that starred Bernadette Peters. That year they won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
"While living in New York, I was approached by the producers who were looking to rework "Annie Get Your Gun" on Broadway. They asked me to create new arrangements," McDaniel said. "Those are the types of phone calls that you want to get. I'm so happy that they are doing the show in Kirkwood. That is so awesome."
For McDaniel, who still remembers the 1979 performance by the KTG, the story has come full circle with his hometown performing the same Broadway revival show he helped to create.
Director's Vision of "Annie"
For a little over a year, KTG Director Landon Shaw has been preparing his vision of "Annie Get Your Gun." For only the second time in the guild's 82 years of operation, the musical will be performed at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Road. The show will hold seven performances between May 3-5 and May 9-12. Showtimes will be 8 p.m. except Sundays which will have matinees at 2 p.m.
Shaw made his proposal to be the director of the show to Terry Sibbitts, executive director of the theatre guild, in April 2012.
"The directors all have their emphasis. They know how to do it," Sibbitts said. "One thing that Landon is emphasizing is that Annie Oakley, Frank Butler and Buffalo Bill Cody were real people.
"This might be a fictionalized story, but they were real people and he really wants to get that across. I think that's a very exciting idea," Sibbetts said.
For Shaw, portraying the true heart of the characters is something he hopes to accomplish.
"When I direct a show, my goal and - in order for me to be satisfied - I have to see something in it that maybe no one else has seen before and have it speak to me. Then I hone in on that and that's what it becomes," Shaw said. "With 'Annie Get Your Gun,' they paint Annie in the script as a little over the top. They kind of discredit her accomplishments.
"So when I was doing the research about her, I thought, 'My God, this phenomenal woman. She's achieved so much. There's got to be a way that we can educate the audience about the real achievements of this woman, while still staying true to the script.'"
Shaw came up with a museum aspect to help tell Annie's story that begins in the lobby of the theatre and in between set changes, members of the youth ensemble deliver real facts about Annie Oakley.
Between the youth ensemble and principle actors, 35 cast members step foot into the late 1800s to bring the musical to life. The show stars Natalie Sannes, as Annie Oakley and Austin Pierce as Frank Butler.
"It's been an honor to be Annie because she was a real person. I've never played a role that was a real person and was taken from real life," Sannes said. "It's been an honor to try to capture her spirit. She was such an amazing person and her story is really incredible. It's been really fun to try to recreate that and I'm excited to share it with people."
While trying to recreate the main characters, Shaw found that Frank Butler's character was altered to depict a different person than what he really was.
"They made Frank be this chauvinistic, egotistical person. In real life, you find out that he really fell in love with Annie instantly, the day he met her," Shaw said. "For an Irishman, he never drank. He found out her parents were Quakers and did everything he could to impress them and was really a very quiet-natured person."
Pierce was able to find the freedom in playing a more honest portrayal of the Wild West marksman.
"There is a gravity to playing someone you know who has existed. There is a sense of truth in the moment that you're playing, but also truth in whom they were," Pierce said. "Not only are you trying to convince the room full of people that are there to watch you, but you are respectfully doing it in a way that accurately portrays a real person. There may be restrictions in playing a real person, but there is a lot of freedom in exploring exactly who they were."
Along with Sannes and Pierce, the show also features three younger siblings of Annie's. Morgan McDonald, 11, Lily McDonald, 10, and Charlie B. Southern, 12, make up the Oakley children. All three have trained with Shaw prior to this performance.
"He's a great director," Morgan McDonald said. "He teaches us the true meaning of how to put yourself into your character by taking a real life situation and using it."
Shaw hopes his version brings the reality of the characters to life and shows truth through their honesty.
"All-around this is a great show," he said.