Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre: Annie Get Your Gun

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre: Annie Get Your GunAfter having seen Hairspray, my first adult experience at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, I just had to come back for an encore. This time I came to see Annie Get Your Gun. This is the story of Annie Oakley and her… Well, her gun. Hence the name of said musical. Because of the story, and the history, that this performance has across the globe, I was told to beware of an older crowd. But what did I care? Dinner and a show are meant to be enjoyed by people of all ages. I actually arrived at B&B a little early. I had planned to meet my good friend Josh Williams there at 6:30. I never can remember when these things get started, so I left work around 5:15 and headed west. Traffic wasn’t too bad, so I made good time. It actually gave me some time to reflect on a busy and quite stressful day at work. Now, back to Annie and her gun.

This show actually began back in 1946, on Broadway, and was an immediate success. Based on some preliminary research I did before walking into the venue, I learned that the story revolves around Annie Oakley and Frank Butler as they compete for top billing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Speaking of Wild West shows, I sort of have an affection for the Wild West. Ever since the show Deadwood hit the TV screen, I have obsessed over these stories and the history of what it was like back in those days. Deadwood has since been canceled, but you can still get an idea of what I’m talking about in movies such as Tombstone and Wild Wild West. (Yes, I know that Will Smith plays the main character in that film, but it does do the era justice as far as what folks did, how they dressed, and more importantly how they interacted with one another. Plus, the movie is hilarious; they can’t all be serious. Where’s the fun in that?)

There are a ton of big songs in this musical. Some that, before tonight, I had no idea were even from Annie Get Your Gun. Songs like Doin’ What Comes Naturally, Anything You Can Do, and There’s No Business Like Show Business. Those are some pretty timeless tunes, and it was a treat to see them performed live on stage right here in my own backyard. The show won’t be on stage long here in Indianapolis, playing from March 31st through May 8th, but the original score did a ton of shows out in New York City. In NYC alone, the show did 1,147 performances. That particular show featured Ethel Merman as Annie. Shortly thereafter it went overseas and was on stage in London, featuring Delores Gray as Annie.

The show did so well that by 1950 it was made into a movie. I’m not sure why they would keep changing the lead role, but Betty Hutton was cast as Annie for that film. But the show didn’t stop on the big screen, as it was shortly thereafter turned into a television show featuring the like of Mary Martin.

Several years later, practically a generation later, Annie Get Your Gun came back with a Tony Award winning revival featuring killer talent. Both Bernadette Peters and Reba McEntire were a part of the revival. I wonder if their red hair is what gave it away! I suppose that makes it easier on the casting director.

The Buffet is Now Open

I got a sneak peak of the menu before I walked in; I was excited to try the BBQ chicken. I don’t remember there being chicken the last time I was here… But you know wings and me! And the wings were incredible. The sauce was sweet and tangy, and kept me licking my fingers all night long. I hoped to get another plate of them, but by the time I turned my head back towards the buffet, it was gone! I’ll remember that the next time I see wings on the dinner line.

Josh, my date for the evening, wasn’t too impressed with the food. He claimed the beef was dry and the chicken was cold. I might agree with his claim on the roast beef, but I can’t get over how tasty the chicken sauce was. The food for this show was a big improvement over last time in my opinion.

Let the Show Begin

Shortly after they removed the buffet, workers were hustling to get the first act stage setup. Their shirts, sporting numerous western patterns, got me excited to meet Annie. I also like seeing the orchestra (can you call two members an orchestra?) prepare upstairs. They were a highlight of my attention during the last show. (Did you know that all of the music for this show is compliments of the great Irving Berlin?)

The first act was pretty intense. The folks come out singing and continue to sing song after song, always managing to keep the story progressing forward. As a matter of fact, the story is a lot easier to follow and the progress is a lot more structured than that of Hairspray. I can’t help but compare the two. I will admit Annie Oakley has a major role here. And I know what you’re saying, “Well, it is her show!” I get that, but she literally dominated the evening. That’s not a bad thing, as she has an awesome voice and is a pretty solid actor. The dialog between her and Frank, at least through the first act, was enjoyable and easily relatable.

The songs are just fantastic, and this performance (I’m sure all of their performances) has a ton of unnecessary and unexpected humor. It’s greatly appreciated as the characters beg for a few laughs. Some of the humor is rude, crude, and definitely not PG, but this is the Wild West after all. (If you have kids, and plan on attending this show, the language isn’t that bad. I  just didn’t expect there to be any profanity at a show like this. And trust me, it wasn’t bad… at all, really. Nothing you wouldn’t hear on TV any given night. Just came as a surprise is all.)

One thing that impressed me throughout the evening was the stage and the decorations. It was simple, not changing much from one song to the next. The simplicity did help make the show feel more personal, and the characters more “in your face”. Of course that could be because our seats were much closer to the stage for this show. I actually think the seats that we had for this show were perfect, at least compared to where we were last time.

Right along with the stage, the clothing everyone was wearing was dead on. Granted, I wasn’t alive during these times, but based on all those movies and television shows that I have seen, it seems they were consistent. From Frank’s belt buckle to Annie’s cowboy boots, I felt like I was traveling right along with the show. It makes me want to go out, buy some boots, a cowboy hat, and start chewing tobacco!

The Second Act

Before the intermission was over, the stage was set for the second act. Note that the center stage never changed. From the moment they went on stage, everything happened on this huge bull’s eye. Not sure who made or constructed this stage, but there were several times throughout the evening that the stage sagged, and made me concerned a few times for the actors’ safety. Nothing too serious ever happened throughout the night, but I was initially concerned.

The second act wasn’t quite as long as the first, but offered up some more timeless tracks. The second act pretty much wrapped things up, and as if we didn’t know how the performance would end, the actors did a great job staying on task and completing their lines scene by scene. If there is anything that impressed me about this show, it was Annie Oakley. Well, not Annie herself, but Tiana Checchia, the woman that played Annie. Curt Dale Clark, the actor who played Frank Butler, also impressed me quite a bit. They had mediocre voices in my opinion, but it made sense. There were actually several times throughout the evening where Tiana missed a note, but as noticeable as it was she was always able to pull it all together and get things back on track.

If you are a fan of the Wild West, a fan of Irving Berlin, or just a fan of great food and a good show (think of it as something different) then I highly suggest that you check out Annie Get Your Gun at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. But hurry, the show closes soon. Tickets are available at the Beef & Boards box office. Just remember… anything you can do, I can do better.

*Side note… When I was walking in the theatre, a man behind me sees a line of people (dressed to impress) and says, “Oh, must be ‘dress up’ night.” He was wearing a t-shirt and shorts. His children were also wearing short sleeves and shorts. If you ever plan on coming to Beef & Boards, plan on dressing up. That’s just what you do when you come to a performance like this. It’s obviously not required, but this is not just dinner at the Sizzler.