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On 7 June 1947, the colourful musical Annie Get Your Gun burst onto the stage of the London Coliseum. The show ran for three years, the longest run in the theatre's history. Over half a century later, the show has lost none of its appeal. Containing some of Irving Berlin's best-loved songs, it gets a welcome revival by the Grayshott Stagers at the Haslemere Hall this week.

The story revolves around Annie Oakley, an illiterate hillbilly with a knack for shooting guns. Persuaded to join Buffalo Bill's travelling Wild West Show, she soon falls hopelessly in love with Frank Butler, the show's featured shooting ace. But when Annie eclipses Frank as the show's main attraction, she realizes she will have to make some hard choices if she wants to win the man she loves.

The success of the show relies heavily on the casting of the two leading characters. These are large roles - the actors are rarely off the stage - and the Stagers were fortunate to cast Alexandra Legat and Paul Tapley as Annie Oakley and Frank Butler.

From the moment she strode onto the stage, rifle in hand, Alexandra Legat formed an immediate rapport with the audience. As the sharp shootin' Annie, she belts out Doin' What Comes Naturally, the first of her ten songs. In an energetic and polished performance, she grew convincingly from a rough and illiterate girl into a dignified, wise and happy young woman.

Paul Tapley, in his first appearance at Grayshott, gave a strong and confident portrayal as Frank Butler. With his powerful voice and insolent swagger, he charmed the ladies in I'm a Bad Bad Man and came into his own with the wry My Defences are Down.

Together they made an excellent team and their good-natured sparring duet Anything You Can Do was one of the evening's highlights.

The supporting roles can easily be overshadowed by the leads but Peter Jones, making a welcome return to the stage after a six year absence, made the most of the part of the forlorn and likeable impresario Charlie Davenport. He has excellent stage presence and clearly enjoyed the banter with his stage sister, played by Laura Musco.

Laura injected some comedy into the part of the brazen Dolly Tate with some witty one-liners. The scene where she was nearly scalped by Chief Sitting Bull was particularly good.

The good-natured bravado of Bob Fells' Buffalo Bill and the hilarious monosyllabic scepticism of Alan Stone's Chief Sitting Bull helped push the plot along at a quick pace.

As Annie's younger sisters Jessie, Minnie and Nellie, Jessica Lelew, Lucy Clayton, and Rebecca Lelew were well cast and their Moonshine Lullaby was nicely sung. They were joined by Josh Carpenter as their brother Little Jake who, with his winning smile, stole practically every scene he was in.

Cameo roles were well played by Jeff Morris (Foster Wilson), Alan Clarke (Pawnee Bill) and Teresa Marsh as the garrulous Sylvia Potter-Porter.

As an assortment of townsfolk, showgirls and Indians, Katy Boddington, Charlotte Brown, Peter Budd, Jennifer Charters, Shona Dickinson, John Dowsett, Ann Johnstone, Mike Lee, Elizabeth Lelew, Betty Penny, Jane Sargeant, George Streeter, Tommy Trussler and Marian Walker were well drilled and made the most of the big chorus numbers, particularly the showstopper There's No Business Like Show Business.

The sets were simple but effective, one of the most visually exciting being the Sioux Indian Camp. With painted faces and costumes (looking very effective under ultra-violet lights) the chorus mastered some complicated dance steps. They were joined by Nick Creaser who gave an exciting acrobatic performance as Iron Tail.

As choreographer, Laura Musco successfully created a range of styles to convey the storyline as it unfolded.

Doreen Wylde has been directing musicals in the local area for thirty years and, with over 100 productions to her credit, she has vast experience in getting the best out of her cast. With Doreen at the helm, audiences will never be disappointed - and this show is no exception. She doubles up as musical director and can be justifiably proud of yet another success.

The small orchestra - Jeremy Legat (piano), Nigel Wicken (keyboard), Geoff Russell (double bass) and Derek Vickers (percussion) achieved a pleasing balance with soloists and chorus alike, under the masterful guidance of conductor Tony McIntee.

Annie Get Your Gun - the ultimate battle of the sexes - plays at the Haslemere Hall from 1-3 May, nightly at 7.30. Tickets can be obtained from the Box Office on 01428 642161.


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Updated: 2nd May 2003