Giddy up, y’all. We’re heading into the wild, wild west as we tackle Annie Get Your Gun on this week’s episode of Encore. The classic 1940s musical is filled with yeehaws and guffaws, all culminating in an iconic piece of musical theater that has become an integral part of the pop culture lexicon. Let’s lasso ourselves some history, shall we?
Episode 5: Annie Get Your Gun
Book: Dorothy Fields & Herbert Fields
Music & Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Based on: The life of Annie Oakley
Broadway Premiere: May 16, 1946 at the Imperial Theatre
But, like, any Tony Awards?: The Tony Awards didn’t exist until 1947
Best Song, as decided by me alone: “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning”
This musical was created at the beginning of the birth of the modern musical. Before Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma (aka next week’s episode of Encore), no one had made a full-length musical featuring songs that further the plot along. Annie Get Your Gun was an idea from Dorothy Fields as a starring vehicle for her friend, Ethel Merman. After asking Rodgers & Hammerstein to produce, a request went out to Jerome Kern to compose the music for the venture, with Dorothy writing the lyrics. Kern traveled to NYC to start work on the project in early November of 1945. He died 9 days later. They then asked Irving Berlin to write the music and lyrics and the rest is history.
With the show being written for Merman, the show features many an opportunity for comedy and belting, two of Ethel’s specialties. The show spawned many classic songs, including “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” “Anything You Can Do,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
The show ran for 1147 performances. The show had a 1966 Broadway revival at Lincoln Center, with Ethel Merman reprising her role. Its only, as of now, Tony-eligible production has been the 1999 Broadway revival. The show opened to wonderful reviews and an altered production. Omitted were many racist stereotypes and songs towards Native Americans. The reviser of the production, Peter Stone, also placed “There’s No Business Like Show Business” at the front of the show, creating a “show within a show” framing device. The production went on to win the Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award, along with Lead Actress in a Musical for Bernadette Peters. Susan Lucci and Reba McEntire were two of her replacements that led to a 2+ year run for the revival at the Marquis Theatre.
You ready for the Disney connections? The real-life Annie Oakley was a sharpshooter than starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. While that show doesn’t exist anymore, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with Mickey & Friends is inspired by the original and is a large-scale dinner theater arena performance ad has performed nightly since 1992 at Disneyland Paris. Yup. That’s it. The show is close to hitting a world record for attendance and shows performed. But, that’s the only connection I’ve got. Truly.
My guess for the lack of a Disney connection is due to just how early in theater history this musical was created. Whether or not it has some magical ties, however, it is still an integral part of musical theatre history and led to some of our favorite Disney properties today.