Looking Back: Annie Get Your Gun

Looking Back: Annie Get Your Gun

As my dear friends prepare to open their production of Annie Get Your Gun tonight at The Great Plains Theatre in Abilene, Kansas, it got me thinking about this tuneful (if sometimes problematic) musical and what fun it can be based almost entirely on the wonderful score by Irving Berlin. Annie Get Your Gun also has an interesting history and I thought I’d share some of those details here today.

1.     Originally, Jerome Kern (The Princess Musicals, Show Boat, Roberta) was slated to write the score for Annie Get Your Gun. In 1945, at the age of 60, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. What little work he had done on the musical would not be used.

2.     Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were the producers of the original production of Annie Get Your Gun. This was their first major foray into producing musical theatre. The duo had previously composed Oklahoma! and Carousel together.

3.     Upon Kern’s death, Rodgers and Hammerstein secured Irving Berlin to write Annie Get Your Gun’s score. Berlin was reticent to take the job at first. He insisted he knew nothing about writing this type of character. Hammerstein coached him in his formula for the language of homespun America, a technique that had served him well in Show Boat, Oklahoma! and Carousel. His solution, “Just write the songs in your usual style, but drop the “ing” at the end of words and replace them with “in”.

4.     The book of the musical was written by the brother/sister team of Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Although she didn’t write any lyrics for Annie Get Your Gun, Dorothy was a prolific female lyricist, one of the best in a field that was dominated by men. Among her myriad productions, she wrote lyrics for Blackbirds of 1928, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Redhead, Sweet Charity, and See Saw. Her career spanned 48 years and several collaborators.

 Ethel Merman

Ethel Merman

5.     Annie Get Your Gun was written with the big-voiced, balls-to-the-wall Ethel Merman in mind, so much of the music was catered to the star’s abilities. Her famous belt and broad comedic stylings were a perfect pairing of performer with material.

6.     The original production of Annie Get Your Gun was an unqualified hit, running 1,147 performances at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre (current home of Les Miserables). This was on par with the biggest hits of the day. It also has received several popular New York revivals.

7.     The musical’s most famous ditty “There’s No Business Like Show Business” was almost cut from the show. Berlin didn’t think that Richard Rodgers liked it, and, during the show’s development, dropped the number. Fortunately, Rodgers noticed the piece had been excised and asked that it be returned to the score.

8.     A 1999 revival of Annie Get Your Gun starring Bernadette Peters (and featuring a revised, more politically correct and racially sensitive book by Peter Stone) played Broadway’s Marquis Theatre where it ran 1,045 performances. Peters was succeeded by soap opera star Susan Lucci, then Cheryl Ladd, Reba McEntire, and Crystal Bernard.

So there’s a little bit about Annie Get Your Gun, one of the hootin’ and hollerin’, wildest and funniest musical comedies of the 1940s and certainly a classic that continues to delight today. What’s your favorite song from this show? I bet you can’t pick just one. 

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