"Anything you can do, I can do better,” croon the sparring sharpshooters, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, in Irving Berlin’s sprightly musical romance, set in America’s Wild West. As if to adhere to that thought, Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities stages a superior rendition of this 1946 chestnut, scoring a bull’s-eye. Though the battle-of-the-sexes plot feels a bit creaky, Irving Berlin’s blissfully melodic score is one for the ages, fabulously presented here under the music direction of Dennis Castellano. Director-choreographer Jon Engstrom imbues the production with vitality and wit, supported by stellar lead performances and a buoyant ensemble.
This version includes substantial changes made for the Tony-winning 1999 Broadway revival, starring Bernadette Peters. Among other updates to the show, including more choreography, Peter Stone revised the original book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields, partially to minimize racist elements about Native Americans. Yet the freshest aspect here is the ebullient chemistry between Misty Cotton as the tomboyish Annie, who learns you “cain’t get a man with a gun,” and Kevin Bailey as her charming but Neanderthal beau Frank, a diehard chauvinist. Cotton wisely minimizes the country-bumpkin shtick, as Annie delightfully segues from naive backwoods waif to sophisticated player in the game of love. She delivers torch-song ballads (“I Got Lost in His Arms”) and rousing ditties (“I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning”) with equal panache. Bailey’s blustery narcissism is hilarious; he gleefully depicts Frank’s losing battle with suppressed emotional vulnerability (“My Defenses Are Down”). The couple’s marvelously performed duets range from uproariously combative (“An Old-Fashioned Wedding,” “Anything You Can Do”) to disarmingly romantic (“They Say It’s Wonderful”).
Exemplary supporting turns include Heather Lee’s slow-witted Dolly, a conniving rival for Frank’s affections; Doug Bilitch’s blustery impresario, Charlie; David Kirk Grant’s amusing Chief Sitting Bull; Jeff Austin’s stalwart Buffalo Bill Cody; Jeffrey Landman in two choice roles; Travis Davidson and Lisaun Whittingham as the second-banana lovers (sharing dazzling dance numbers); and three adorable moppets (Brendan Brady, Sarah Brown, and Chloe O’Shannon) as Annie’s siblings. By the second reprise of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” Engstrom’s glittering production convinces us this is true.
Presented by Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7p.m. May 5-19. (310) 372-4477