Broadway’s spunkiest musical comes to Huntsville Thursday when Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” opens at the Old Town Theatre.

It will represent the most ambitious musical to be presented by the Huntsville Community Theatre since the old movie house was renovated to accommodate stage production.

Based on the life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler, the musical has become an American classic since it opened on Broadway in 1946. After Broadway, it went out on national and international tours, inspired a popular movie, enjoyed a revival, and is still a go-getter in community theater productions around the country.

The cast of 15 men and seven women and ensemble has presented a cozy rehearsal atmosphere in the building where some of the greatest movies of the ’40s were shown, including “Johnny Belinda” starring Oscar-winning Jane Wyman, the first wife of President Ronald Reagan and the classic, “Laura,” starring Gene Tierney; who lived in Houston when she died, and Huntsville’s Dana Andrews, who was an usher in the Dorothy Theatre down the street before he went to Hollywood.

The Annie production is a Huntsville Community Theatre debut for the director, Brett Caldwell, and many members of his young cast, including Jenna Keef, a 17-year-old Huntsville home-schooled student who portrays Annie. Trey Westerberg, 22, from Austin, a mass communications major at Sam Houston State University, plays Frank Butler.

Caldwell presented the two promising actors to fellow members of the Huntsville Kiwanis Club Tuesday. A song from the show drew heavy applause.

In terms of maturity, the most imposing members of the cast are former district judge Jerry Sandel, who plays Col. Buffalo Bill Cody, and former Huntsville High School football player Charlie Campbell, who portrays Sitting Bull.

Caldwell’s team includes Carol Cooper, assistant director; Carol Carden, music director, and Molly Campbell, Aaron Stewart, Betty Nicolay and Ken Hartness, choreographers.

Annie’s skills with a shotgun and rifle made her an international favorite. Born in Ohio in 1860, she learned to shoot while hunting wild game in the woods around her home. She married Butler, himself a sharpshooter, after beating him in a shooting match. They both appeared in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but Annie was the major attraction. During a tour of Europe, she reportedly shot a cigarette from the lips of Kaiser Wilhelm.

Some of the spunkiest dialogue in the production, both in words and music is the love-hate banter between Annie and Frank, who soon comes to terms as Annie gets her man and keeps her gun. She and Frank conquer the world in tandem — and what a world it is for a woman born in a log cabin — and live on until 1926 when they die within six months of each other.

In 1935, George Stevens directed the movie, “Annie Oakley,” starring Barbara Stanwyck as Annie and Preston Foster as Frank. Stevens was to become one of America’s greatest directors, with movies such as “Shane.”

Broadway’s “Annie Get Your Gun” premiered in 1946. It was put together by one of the most acclaimed creative teams of all time: Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Herbert and Dorothy Fields, Joshua Logan and Jerome Kern, who died from a stroke in the early stages of the planning process.

The original headliners in “Annie Get Your Gun” were Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton. One of the songs, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” became the signature song for Merman and the entertainment industry.

Some of the other songs in the show became American standards, including “Doing What Comes Naturally,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” For more than a year after it opened, these songs dominated the popular TV show, “Hit Parade.”

Over the years, many actresses played the role of Annie, among them, Texan Mary Martin (the first national tour) and Delores Gray (London premier). A more recent Broadway revival was a success.

The movie based on the musical came in 1950 and is available on DVD. It starred Betty Hutton as Annie and Howard Keel as Frank. Hutton was brought in for the title role when Judy Garland had to withdraw from exhaustion after two demanding song-and-dance-numbers.

Research reveals that Annie and Frank, while dynamite as performers, may have been less explosive when the show was over. In materials released by the Rogers and Hammerstein Theatre Library, Fields was quoted as saying:

“We did a lot of research on Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, and both of them apparently were about the dullest people in the world. Annie Oakley in real life used to sit in her tent and knit, for God’s sake.”

Knitting aside, she has remained America’s “Little Miss Sure Shot.”

Tickets for “Annie Get Your Gun” may be purchased at several locations, including First Christian Church, The Farmhouse Cafe and the Huntsville Main Street building downtown. Tickets are priced at $10 for adults, $5 for students, and $8 for groups of 15 or more. Show dates for the 7:30 p.m. performances are Feb. 23 through Feb. 25 and March 2 through March 4. A matinee performance on March 5 will start at 2 p.m.

For more information, or to make reservations, call (936) 291-7933.

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