Summer Stock Austin takes on an updated ‘Annie Get Your Gun’

July 20, 2017
Max Corney starred in “Ghost the Musical” at McCallum Fine Arts Academy. This summer, he plays Frank Butler in “Annie Get Your Gun” at Summer Stock Austin. Contributed

It wasn’t that long ago that Scott Thompson, magnetic director and dancemaker, was everywhere all the time in Austin.

Now he’s back helming the Irving Berlin classic, “Annie Get Your Gun,” for Summer Stock Austin, which combines the talents of high school and college students with those of stage veterans at the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theatre through Aug. 12.

The unshakably tuneful Berlin show plays in rep with “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the musical take on the movie spoof, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and “A Shoe Story: A Musical,” an original piece written by affable Austin composer and music director Allen Robertson.

More than year ago, Thompson, who once ran the much-lauded Austin Musical Theatre with partner Richard Byron, was in talks with Long Center management about a possible big-stage version of summer stock in the Dell Hall. Those plans were shelved. Yet he came back last summer at the request of Long Center educational impresario Ginger Morris to direct the charming yet problematic musical, “Carnival.”

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With its gender skirmishes and, at times, ethnic stereotypes, “Annie Get Your Gun” — which tells of expert sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her romance with the hawk-eyed Frank Butler during the days of touring Wild West shows — offers its own set of problems. As such, producers have been working with a group called Great Promise for American Indians in regards to the show’s representation of Native Americans.

The 1946 hit comes with a catchy score like no other, including “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Anything You Can Do.”

Summer Stock Austin is working with a slightly tweaked version of the mercifully updated 1990s edition of the Berlin show.

“These are shows I haven’t checked off my list,” says Thompson, who most recently directed Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town” at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, N.Y. “These days, I take a project based on passion — or if it scares me. If I think: You can’t do that.”

Meanwhile, he’s been shopping around “One For My Baby,” an original musical featuring Harold Arlen songs put together with frequent collaborator Fred Barton. It’s been through several well-received workshops and early productions but still awaits its official world premiere.

Hold on a minute. If you weren’t in Austin from 1996 to 2004, you mostly likely don’t know Thompson, whose Austin Musical Theatre produced top-notch, fully engineered shows, mostly at the Paramount Theatre. Its near-perfect run got off to an enchanting start with “Peter Pan” in 1997 and ended with “The Wizard of Oz” in 2003, shared with San Antonio under the rebranded name Broadway Texas.

“It really was a high point for me so far,” Thompson says. “And I never felt I’ve been far away from Austin arts the whole time I’ve been gone.”

His current producer, Morris, started as an assistant at Austin Musical Theatre and within no time she was running the group’s training programs at its sprawling studios on East Riverside Drive. Thompson is not surprised that the young talent in Austin has just gotten better and better as the years went by.

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His Annie, Trinity Adams, recently graduated from Dripping Springs High School, where she won awards for her performance as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”

“She has real star quality,” Thompson says. “She’s got an intuition about acting, about how to get inside a character, well beyond her years. She makes Annie a complete person without missing the comedy.”

His Frank, Max Corney, starred in shows, including “Ghost the Musical,” at McCallum Fine Arts Academy.

“He’s a very sharp actor who hasn’t done that many musicals before,” Thompson says. “But he’s got a great voice and these musical waters aren’t that deep.”

In the 1946 version, Annie deliberately misses a shot during a climactic sharpshooting contest in order to land her man. Summer Stock Austin hews to the 1990s version, where the match ends in a tie.

“It will be interesting to see how these young people look at the basic premise of the show,” Thompson says. “Equality of the sexes is what these women have already known, or rather, it’s more of a given fact today.”

Even in the original, he says, the women in the audience must have been cheering a female character who sings, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” since, during World War II on the home front at least, they had done just that.