Guns will be blazing at Ravinia this weekend but no need to take cover. The pistol popping will be make-believe, supplied by Broadway diva, Patti LuPone, as part of three staged performances of the musical theater classic, “Annie Get Your Gun.” The show tells the fictional tale of sharpshooter, Annie Oakley, who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show of the 1880s.
The opening performance this Friday coincides with the real Annie’s 150th birthday celebration. LuPone’s appearance will mark her seventh starring role since 2001 in Ravinia’s annual revivals and her third Ethel Merman role. She first appeared in the 2001 staging of Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim. In fact, all six prior appearances have been in Sondheim productions.
The annual tradition of classic Broadway revivals will stand as one of Ravinia president Welz Kauffman’s lasting legacies. He launched the music theater initiative in his first season with the following words: “We wanted to explore Ravinia Festival’s rich history of theatrical music, which dates back to our earliest days as one of the summer opera capitals of the world….It will focus on the orchestra as an integral partner in music theater, attract new audiences and teach youngsters through our community efforts.”
I personally commend Ravinia (along with New York City Center’s Encore series) for keeping this distinctly American art form alive; a cultural treasure which contributed so much to what we call the Great American Songbook. The first Broadway show I saw as a lad of 11 was a musical, Peter Pan. Musicals have since provided some of my favorite theater memories.
LuPone has enjoyed the Broadway limelight for many years due to her bigger-than-life vocalism and a history of signature musical roles, starting with her 1979 Tony-award portrayal in Evita and, more recently, in the revival of “Gypsy” (2008) and her Olivier-award appearance in the London cast of “Les Miserables.”
Like LuPone, Merman was herself a larger-than-life Broadway legend. I cannot hear the songs, “No Business Like Show Business” from “Annie” or “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy” without picturing Merman belting out those numbers with her distinctively brassy sound.
I’ll be listening intently this weekend to hear how LuPone delivers Merman’s iconic “No Business.” The show is one of lyricist Irving Berlin’s masterworks. It opened in 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances on Broadway before transferring to London. It was turned into a movie and has enjoyed numerous revivals, most recently last year in London’s West End.
Besides “No Business Like Show Business,” other songs from the show like “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Anything You Can Do” have taken on a life of their own. And, remember ladies, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” Joining LuPone in the cast are Patrick Cassidy as Annie’s lover, Frank Butler, and George Hearn as Buffalo Bill Cody. Lonny Price directs and Paul Gemignani leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Performances are this Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 7:30. For information or to purchase tickets, go to www.Ravinia.org or call 847/266-5100. If you are unfamiliar with this musical classic, go by all means. Perhaps it will provide you with lasting memories of your own.
Past Musicals Presented at Ravinia
Sweeney Todd (2001)
A Little Night Music (2002)
Sunday in the Park with George (2004)
Anyone Can Whistle (2005)
Most Happy Fella (2007)
West Side Story (2008)
Stephen Sondheim wrote the songs (in some cases the book as well) for all the musicals, save for “Most Happy Fella” and “Camelot”.