Annie Get Your Gun starts at Manchester Opera House, running from May 16-24, with Jason Donovan, Norman Pace and Emma Williams all starring
The Irving Berlin classic musical Annie Get Your Gun gets the modern treatment in the region tomorrow night.
The major new six-month UK tour of the Tony award-winning show from the producers of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, West Side Story and South Pacific is based on the true story of Annie Oakley, who was an incredible sharpshooter, and her competitive romance with rival marksman Frank Butler.
They both worked for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Circus. Buffalo Bill was an American soldier, bison hunter and showman.
This production of Annie Get Your Gun is also a ‘show within a show’ as the centre of the stage is the Circus Big Top where the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show takes place, while the remainder of the action takes place on the rest of the stage.
Annie, who sings Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better, was a 19th Century proto-feminist. She is played by the equally gutsy Emma Williams, while Frank Butler is played by Jason Donovan.
“The characters have a special chemistry,” Emma says.
“We have been having an absolute blast. I have an array of weaponry in the show, rifles, pistols, and I’m having a whale of a time playing with them. I don’t know if I’d trust myself with any real ammo.”
Emma is indeed sharp. She is a MENSA member who takes everything in her very capable stride: “I am doing a lot of circus training at the moment – stilt walking, juggling. We’ve got a trapeze as well. Annie was a real trick shot. She used to shoot over her shoulder using a mirror and she could hit things without looking.
“Buffalo Bull decides that having a girl who can shoot fantastically and looks great, which was rare in those times, should be their star attraction.
“She does this amazing trick and unfortunately it’s the one thing that may make her lose Frank, the love of her life, when she thinks it’s going to be the one thing that will make him fall at her feet.”
Can she win him back? “Like every good love story, boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl loses boy, girl decides to shoot something.
“Annie is feisty and strong and is not prepared to be told that she is just a little girl. She’s not cocky, just confident, and she doesn’t undewrstand why she has to hide that.”
Annie is also meant to be incredibly beautiful and the audience is wowed to see her transition from cowgirl to stunning beauty in a gown.
“You can paint her face, polish her nails, brush her hair, but underneath everything is still Annie.”
Emma is very excited to be working with Jason Donovan: “On the first day of rehearsals we were doing a song from the show called They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful.
“It’s a duet. It’s glorious. There’s this amazing swell in the music, then the director said, ‘This is where you kiss’.
“We started the song, the swell of music happened, and he kissed me.
“Bear in mind I have known him for four hours at this point and I am thinking, ‘Jason Donovan is kissing me’.
“I was supposed to come back in but I forgot what I was supposed to say.”
Donovan himself is now a musical theatre veteran, from Joseph to Priscilla.
He said: “It’s a love story, essentially and it’s about opposites,’ he says.
“Annie and Frank are completely opposite people; the tables turn and they end up falling in love, and he ends up becoming a bit of a puppy dog after her. But initially he’s a very confident character.
“It’s an incredible musical with some really great songs such as There’s No Business Like Show Business and Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better.
“There are lots of famous songs that people will recognise but not necessarily realise come from this show, so it will be good to show audiences how those songs tie in to the story of Annie Get Your Gun. The crux of this show is Annie Get Your Gun, not Frank Get Your Gun, and I have no problem with that.”
And with Annie Get Your Gun being a Western-themed musical, there are plenty of dance numbers in the show, meaning that Jason will be dancing as well as singing, which doesn’t faze him as much as it would have done in the past: “I am more relaxed about choreography than I’ve ever been, thanks to Strictly.”
Buffalo Bill is played by Norman Pace, known to many as half of the successful TV comedy duo from the late 80s and early 90s, Hale and Pace.
But Norman says: “My biggest contribution to the entire show is that I’ve managed to grow my own facial hair for the part. I’ve got one of those moustaches that you have to twiddle at the end and a long thin beard that is somewhere down to my knees.”
The real Buffalo Bill commissioned Annie Oakley to shoot eggs from poodles’ heads.
But Pace says: “I just have to be in charge, which befits a man of my years, although this is the first time I’ve ever been in charge of anything.”
Is he on a special show business diet? “I think of the show as doing a fitness regime in itself. You prepare for the shows from the moment you wake up.
“You analyse how your throat is, how you are feeling. Your whole day is based around those two hours on stage.
“Musical theatre is especially disciplined because of the singing. It’s not the same as doing a straight play or stand-up.
“You have to look after the voice a lot more.”
Annie Get Your Gun starts a six-month tour tomorrow at the Opera House in Manchester.