I admit it I'm a theatre geek. Even worse I'm a bit of a theatre history geek. One thing I actually enjoy is researching a show I'm directing, especially when it's a show with a rich history and iconic personalities, like our next production "Annie Get Your Gun."
The 1946 show is best known for the classic Irving Berlin score, which produced nine songs that were considered hits. No previous Broadway musical had produced that many hit songs. Just look at this lineup of songs "Anything You Can Do," "Doin' What Comes Naturally," "The Girl That I Marry," "I Got the Sun in the Morning," "I Got Lost in His Arms," "I'm an Indian, Too," (which is cut in our revival version of the script) "There's No Business Like Show Business," "They Say It's Wonderful," and "You Can't Get a Man with A Gun." (Another hit tune, "Old Fashioned Wedding" was added to the 1966 revival of the show.)
In response to critics who felt the show was old-fashioned and disappointed that it didn't have the more operatic story driven feel like the recent groundbreaking "Oklahoma" Berlin agreed saying the score was filled with "nothing but good old-fashioned hits."
The success of the show is even more interesting because Berlin was not the first choice to write the score. The writers and producers (incidentally Rodgers and Hammerstein were the producers) had originally hired Jerome Kern for the project. Shortly after Kern arrived in New York to begin work on the show, however, he suffered a stroke and died a short time later.
The show was thrown into chaos for a short time until Richard Rodgers said the only possible replacement would be Berlin. Getting Berlin on board was another story, though.
Berlin had spent the past five years touring the world entertaining the troops during WWII and it had been several years since he actually worked on a Broadway show. In that time Broadway had changed radically. Berlin was best known for writing music for revue-style shows not story based musicals that were now the preferred form, and most of his recent work had been in Hollywood. Nonetheless, Berlin was already a household name thanks to songs like "White Christmas," "Easter Parade" and "God Bless America".
Berlin was very hesitant to take the job, telling the producers it wasn't his kind of show. Rodgers recalled, "I begged him to go home with the book and fool around over the weekend and see how things worked."
A week later Berlin had roughed out half a dozen songs including "There's No Business Like Show Business."
That song almost didn't make it into the show. Initially Berlin thought it was great, but an off-hand comment by his secretary caused him to doubt the song. Later as drafts of the show continued to develop one day Berlin on his own cut "No Business Like Show Business" because he thought the production team didn't like it. At the end of a reading of a draft of the script Rodgers asked what happened to the song and Berlin responded that he cut it. Everyone involved with the show told him to put it back and Berlin said, "I don't think I could find it right now. It's in a pile." Eventually the song was found tucked away under a telephone book in Berlin's office.
Another of the famous songs appeared almost spontaneously. The director, Joshua Logan, felt Frank and Annie needed another duet in the second act. It was decided the song should be a "challenge" song and Berlin dashed off. When Logan arrived home 15 minutes later his phone was ringing and Berlin sang the chorus of "Anything You Can Do".
"Where the hell did you write that?" Logan asked.
"In the taxicab. I had to, didn't I? We go into rehearsal Monday," Berlin answered.
When the show finally opened, after a two week delay due to the fact the theatre was literally falling apart and had to undergo emergency structural repairs, the opening night audience was lukewarm during the first act. They expected a show with more depth, not jokes and catchy songs. During intermission Logan asked Ethel Merman how she could keep performing for such a dead audience. She answered, "Easy. You may think I'm playing the part, but inside I'm saying, 'Screw you! You jerks! If you were as good as I am, you'd be up here!'"
Audiences of course more than warmed to the show and it went on to run 1,147 performances and in 1947 when Berlin negotiated the sale of the movie rights to the show for $650,000 it was the most ever paid for a musical.
It's those kinds of stories that make the background research of a show like "Annie Get Your Gun" so interesting. But it's the cast and crew at CP that make actually mounting this classic show so much fun and we know that you'll have fun in the audience at this terrific feel-good musical comedy.
See you at the theatre
Managing Artistic Director