Grandstreet Theatre

Annie Get Your Gun: Independent Record

annie_ir_webpic‘Annie Get Your Gun’ — chock full of romance and famous songs

By MARGA LINCOLN – Independent Record – 04/23/09

Serendipitous circumstances bring Mason Preiss and Colleen Owen to the Grandstreet Theatre stage this weekend in the popular musical “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Both find themselves, a little by accident, as the leads in this famous Irving Berlin musical, which opens Friday and runs through May 23.

In this tempestuous and romantic love story, Owen plays the naive Annie Oakley, fresh from the backwoods of Ohio. And Preiss is the egotistical, handsome, woman-chasing Frank Butler, traveling with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

And they just happen to be the two best shots in the West.

When the Buffalo Bill show arrives in Cincinnati, Butler challenges nyone in town to a shooting match. He winds up facing Oakley — and losing. The show’s manager invites Oakley to join the show and travel the world, enticing her with its promise: “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

While they’re working together in the traveling show, Butler finds himself falling in love with Oakley. But of course, complications arise — including his bruised male ego — which derail the romance. The sharpshooting duo go their separate ways in two different Wild West shows only to come together when both shows go broke.

But you’ll have to see the play to find out what happens when they meet for a final shootout.

“I had forgotten how many great songs are in this play,” said director Stephen Alexander. It’s chock full of such famous show tunes as “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” and “They Say it’s Wonderful.”

Although it’s not a true story, it has some true elements, said Alexander. He calls Oakley the “first American celebrity.”

And Oakley and Butler were famous show business partners. “It’s very much a 1940s story,” Alexander explained. “Women were working when men came home from the war and wanted jobs.”

However, for those familiar with the movie or 1946 Broadway production, there will be surprises. Grandstreet is producing the 1999 revised version of the play, which removes the blatant sexist and racist elements of the 1946 production, and restores songs that were cut from the 1950 film version. In some ways, the same story is still playing out on television news these days, said Alexander. There are news stories of men losing their jobs who are upset that the woman in the household has to support the family.

“It’s the same story about the frail male ego,” he said.

In the 1940s play, Oakley protects Butler’s ego and allows herself to lose a shooting match with him. “In this (revised) story, it’s male ego vs. strong woman,” Alexander said.“The 1999 version has a surprising and refreshing ending. It goes one step further.”

The leads will be familiar to Helena audiences. Preiss, who trained in theatrical schools in Houston, recently played Frank ’n’ Furter in Grandstreet’s “The Rocky Horror Show.” Although he was intending to take a short break from theater, he found himself attracted to the role of the handsome, dashing Frank Butler. “I thought I could play up the arrogance,” he said.

Owen, a Montana native who played in Grandstreet’s “Urinetown,” has performed with Missoula Children’s Theatre and the Virginia City Players. She was looking for a small part — “a distraction. I got Annie instead.” Expect a lot of music, dance, guns and cowboy hats, said Owen.

Both she and Preiss predict folks will particularly enjoy the number, “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).” “I think they’ll enjoy the relationship — the feistiness of the relationship — and its metamorphosis,” said Preiss.

If You Go:

Grandstreet Theatre presents Irving Berlin’s hit musical, “Annie Get Your Gun”

When: April 24 – May 23, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday matinees: May 3 and 17, 2 p.m.
Where: Grandstreet Theatre, 325 N. Park Ave. in downtown Helena

Contact: Call Grandstreet’s Box Office for reservations, 447-1574

Tickets: $16 for adults, $14 for students, seniors and military

Photo credit:

Chad Trettin/Independent Record. “Colleen Owen plays the lead role of Annie Oakley in Grandstreet’s production of ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ which opens Friday, April 24.”