Annie Get Your Gun (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

There’s no business like showbusiness, and if anyone should know the truth of that statement then it’s Annie Oakley, who got her gun and her man – even though she claimed you couldn’t get a man with a gun, so that was a bit confusing.

It’s always pleasing to see these big musicals on stage because they don’t show them at the cinema any more, and when you watch them on TV it’s not anything like them being live on stage. Funnily enough there was someone there who looked a bit like Howard Keel and he even sounded like him when he sang, but the person I was with said it was a fellow critic and not Howard Keel at all.

Annie Get Your Gun is lively, colourful and very musical, which is just as well as it’s an Irving Berlin musical with music. Not every show I see is a big show with music – for instance when I saw Black Coffee in Eastbourne, written in an afternoon by the Queen of Crime Agatha Christie, and starring Robert Powell (who played Jesus on TV, probably because of his blue eyes) there were no songs because it was a thriller.

The story of the show is quite simple, which is good news for someone like me. Wild Bill Hiccough (known for some reason as Buffalo Bill in this version) is trying to get people to be in his Wild West Show after the show’s star Frank Butler has a tantrum and throws his pudding in the bin before storming off. So he lies in wait for Annie Oakley outside the orphanage where she is singing Tomorrow with the other girls and takes her off as a slave.

Emma Williams (best known for playing the title role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) is spectacular as the gun-toting, pistol-packing, fast-talking, rifle-revving, handgun-handling, shotgun-shooting, munition-manoeuvring, bullet-blasting, weapon-wielding heroine. You really feel she has managed to escape from her “Hard Knock Life” and won’t ever be known as Little Orphan Annie again. One of the other girls from the orphanage looked rather like a boy, but I suppose that is something to do with the laws regarding child performers.

Jason Donovan (best known for the Iceland adverts on TV) plays Frank and he isn’t very good at it. I could give you Ten Good Reasons (haha) why he isn’t up to the part but suffice it to say he just isn’t any good. He can’t sing very well and he looks bored, even when offstage. To be honest the other critic who I thought was Howard Keel would have done a better job given half a chance. I wondered if Jason was unwell, but when I was checking other reviews online to see if I could pinch any good quotes, they all seemed to say the same over a long period, so it must just be that he isn’t any good.

Playing Wild Buffalo Bill Hiccough is Norman Pace (best known for being one half of the comedy double act Baddiel and Skinner). He sports a fine flowing mane of silvery white hair – I can reveal that he grew a wig especially for this show, which just goes to prove how professional he is.

All the great showstopping songs stop the show. They’re all there, apart from the ones that aren’t in this revised version. In fact quite a lot of the show has changed since Doris Day did the film version with those memorable songs Secret Love and Deadwood Stage, but this probably had something to do with copyright issues or Howard Keel’s pre-filming agreement in which the original version of the show could not legally be staged ever again or else a nightmare beyond our worst imaginations would occur and Christine Daae would be abducted.

A bit of a disappointment all told, and certainly not the best thing I have ever seen at the theatre. Given that they didn’t even fire any guns – all shots were simulated by a man banging a drum – the show should perhaps be called Annie Get Your Drum.

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