High school troupe returns to popular musical

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published May 2, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 1, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.
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Members of the Annie Get Your Gun cast include, front row, from the left, Rachel Flowers as Mac, Rae’Vyn Britt as Charlie Davenport, Jessica Cornelius as Dolly Tate, Kenny Taggard as Frank Butler, Christia Livsey as Running Deer, Camille Tedder as Band Leader, Cabb Batson as Little Jake, Alexandria Hunter as Nellie and Paige Bateman as Jessie; second row, from the left, Makayla Bird as Messenger, Katlynn Williams as Fostoria Wilson, Gabby Hess as Dining Car Waiter, Mehkia Wilson as Mrs. Schuyler Adams, Julie Williams as Winnie Tate, Ashley Brittain as Ensemble member, Shavonica Wilson, student director; Abby Root as Annie Oakley and Aswa Khan as Ensemble member; and back row, from the left, Seth Daniell as Tommy Keeler, Emmanuel Cooper as Chief Sitting Bull and Preston Jones as Buffalo Bill Cody.

Annie Get Your Gun, one of America’s most celebrated musicals and composer Irving Berlin’s biggest Broadway hit, will come to life again this weekend at the Little Theater at Arkadelphia High School.

The production is by the school’s choral music program, led by Laura Cornelius.

First produced on Broadway in 1946, the show made famous by Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley and Merman’s signature hit “There’s No Business Like Show Business” has been revived several times over the decades and is always popular in touring companies and local theaters. This is the second time the musical has been performed by singers and actors at Arkadelphia High School.

“We performed it seven years ago,” said Cornelius, who has directed the choral music program for 13 years. “I try to match the productions to the students we have each year.”

The director said she not only looks for musicals that match the voices of the singers but only looks at scripts that offer opportunities for more of her students.

“We have a majority of females, and we have to look out [for parts] for the guys,” Cornelius said.

The teacher has selected two veterans to play the major roles.

In the title role of Annie is Abby Root, and Kenny Taggard plays Frank Butler, Annie’s sharp-shooting rival and love interest. Both are seniors and in their fourth AHS musical.

“Abby is very professional and very energetic. The role fits her,” Cornelius said. “She is also a great comic and really good at the physical aspect of the character.”

Taggard has been in the music program of the Arkadelphia Public Schools for seven years.

“I have had him in the choirs since the sixth grade, and he has been in almost all our programs,” Cornelius said. “He is very dedicated and loves musicals. He lives for these, and I believe he is thinking about going on with his music as a career.”

The choral director said both students are on the stage a lot in the production, especially Root in the role of Annie.

“She is in almost every scene, and that’s a lot of music,” Cornelius said. “It requires some great timing.”

Another veteran AHS performer was Rae’Vyn Britt, who plays Charlie Davenport, manager of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and Preston Jones dons a blonde wig and beard in the role of Buffalo Bill.

The show opens with the Wild West Show visiting Cincinnati, and Frank, the star sharpshooter, challenges anyone in town to a marksmanship match. Annie, a great natural shooter, is entered in the contest by a local hotel owner.

While waiting for the match, Annie meets Frank, and she falls instantly in love, not knowing he will be her opponent. Frank rejects her plain, naive ways, and Annie laments “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.”

Annie wins the contest, and Buffalo Bill and Charlie invite her to join the show by telling her, “There is No Business Like Show Business.”

As the two work together, Frank begins to enjoy the company of the tomboyish Annie, but when she becomes the new star of the show after a spectacular trick-shot stunt, Frank takes his bruised ego and walks out on Annie and the Wild West Show and joins a competing show as the first act ends.

Of course, it all turns into a happy ending, concluding with another shooting contest between Annie and Frank. How it ends has changed as the show has been revised over the years. So, the audience will not know how the happy ending goes until they see the show.

Like many Broadway plays, Cornelius has taken scenes from the show out of town before opening for the main audience. On April 25, the production presented several scenes as an opening act for The Haygoods Show in Branson, Mo.

Annie Get Your Gun opens at Arkadelphia High School at 7 p.m. Friday in the AHS Little Theater. There will be two shows on Saturday — a matinee at 2:30 p.m. and an evening show at 7. The final performance will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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