For their second show of the 2016-2017 season, The Larry Keeton Dinner Theatre (108 Donelson Pike, Nashville, TN 37214) has chosen “Annie Get Your Gun”. Featuring a soundtrack by Irving Berlin, whose film scores include “There’s No Business Like Show Business, “White Christmas” “Easter Parade” and many others, “Annie Get Your Gun” debuted on Broadway in 1946 and offers a fictionalized musical account of real-life wild west sharpshooter Annie Oakley, her time with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and her romance with her sharpshooting co-star, Frank Butler. In the days prior to The Keeton Theatre’s opening night, I had the opportunity to chat with several members of the cast, as well as the show’s choreographer for my latest round of Rapid Fire 20 Q.
RAPID FIRE 20 Q WITH CAST & CHOREOGRAPHER OF “ANNIE GET YOUR GUN”
Rapid Fire with Tonya Pewitt, Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun”
JONATHAN PINKERTON: When playing a character based on a real person, do you approach your portrayal differently than just playing a fictional character?
TONYA PEWITT: I try to bring as much reality to the character as I can. Annie is a larger than life character, but she also is a real person, and I want to respect that. Especially the relationship between Annie and Frank. After doing some research we came to find out that Frank and Annie were so in love with each other that when she passed away he was so heart broken that he committed suicide by starvation. They were married for 44 years.
JP: In researching to chat with you, I discovered “Annie Get Your Gun” debuted on Broadway in 1946. What’s it like to be bringing this show to the stage with this company some seventy years after it’s initial Broadway debut?
TONYA PEWITT: Honestly, it’s kind of intimidating. So many amazing women played this part and I want just want to do it justice. But, this part is so much fun and I am having a blast with it! The entire cast/crew is amazing!
JP: With seventy years of history and as you mention, amazing women in the role, from Ethel Merman, Mary Martina, Betty Hutton and Debbie Reynolds to Bernadette Peters, Reba McEntire and even Susan Lucci, Annie Oakley has been played so many ways. Have you watched clips or highlights of any of these former Annie’s in preparation for the role?
TONYA PEWITT: I grew up on the movie with Betty Hutton, which I love! I also have watched clips of the stage versions with Reba and Bernadette. Which personally, I love me some Reba! With such a well known role I don’t want to stray away from what an audience would expect, but I do plan on bringing my own flair to the character.
JP: “Annie Get Your Gun” is set in the 1880s. The fashions of the day are very specific, what with bustles, camisoles, petticoats, corsets..and that’s just the garments worn underneath the tailored long dresses and skirts. Who’s costumer for the show and what’s your personal favorite outfit your get to wear as Annie?
TONYA PEWITT: Ashley Wolfe is our wonderful costumer. She is amazing! I think out of my costumes I like my “train car” costume, my Wild West Show costume and my ball gown–that was made by my grandmother. Heck! I love all my costumes!
Rapid Fire with Chris Cavin, Frank Butler in “Annie Get Your Gun”
JP: Having just appeared in Keeton’s “Cabaret”, It’s official, you’re now a part of the Keeton family. This marks the second show you’ve worked with Ginger Newman as the musical director. It’s no secret that I adore her. How is it working with her?
CHRIS CAVIN: Ginger is above all, a professional, but she is also passionate about great music. It is so much fun to see how excited she gets when the ensemble chords land just perfectly. She truly loves what she does and it is so satisfying when we can live up to her expectations. I just adore her!
JP: You’re also no stranger to the role of Frank Butler, having played him in 2014 at Hendersonville Performing Arts Company. What is it about Frank Butler that attracted you to the role a second time?
CHRIS CAVIN: Frank is, on the surface, an egotistical showman that hates to be beaten and he maintains that façade throughout the show. There are brief glances, however, at the real Frank Butler that exhibit how deeply he loves Annie and wants to see her succeed. Oh, and on a more shallow note, his songs are fun to sing!
JP: Hope you know, you’re co-starring with one of my ‘theatre crushes’, Tonya Pewitt. What’s she like as a leading lady?
CHRIS CAVIN: This is the first time that I have worked with Tonya, and I have to say, I have joined the Tonya Pewitt fan club. She has such an AMAZING range of abilities. Her talent challenges and encourages me to be better every time we share a scene. I am excited to see what level our onstage relationship will reach. Yay, Tonya!
JP: “Anything You Can Do” has always been one of my favorite tunes from “Annie Get Your Gun”. So…what CAN Tonya do better than you?
CHRIS CAVIN: Oh wow! Let’s see… how long is this article? Act, Sing, Dance, make people want to follow her to every show she is in… I can’t say enough about how great she is. But hey, at least I am taller!
Rapid Fire with Taylor Tracey, choreographer for “Annie Get Your Gun”
JP: Alright, I’m seeing a trend here. I’ve mentioned in my conversations with the cast that several of you have graced the stage at Keeton on numerous occasions. You’re no exception. Heck, I remember what may have been your first Keeton show. You played Elle Woods in their production of “Legally Blonde”. Most recently you were one of the fabulous Kit Kat Klub girls in “Cabaret”. For “Annie Get Your Gun”, you’re stepping behind the scenes to choreograph the show. For those who may not be familiar, what’s your dance background?
TAYLOR TRACEY: The Keeton stage has become home here for me in Nashville. Starting with “Legally Blonde” alongside Jamie and Ginger in 2012. I took a few years off after having my little boy in 2013. Then as you stated, doing “Cabaret” just a few months ago. Those wonderful women as well as “Cabaret” director, Jeffery Ellis, gave me a beautiful gift getting me back up on that stage. They gave me the incredible challenge of wearing many hats. I was the understudy to Sally Bowles and the Dance Captain. I was blessed to perform two shows as Sally and it was life changing. I am proud to be a part of this wonderful family here at The Keeton.
As for my dance background, I have been dancing since the age of two. It has always been a part of my life. I grew up in Los Angeles so the teachers I had were the best of the best. By the time I got into high school I was taking about eleven dance classes a week. I have taught over the years, have assisted and choreographed my own shows as well.
JP: How did choreographing this show for Keeton come about?
TAYLOR TRACEY: One day after rehearsal for “Cabaret”, asked if I was interested. I didn’t hesitate and accepted her offer immediately. I was so stinking excited, I started listening to the music the whole ride home, trying to come up with the choreography.
JP: “Annie Get Your Gun” features music and lyrics by legendary composer Irving Berlin. What’s your favorite choreo moment of the show?
TAYLOR TRACEY: My favorite choreo moments in this show are The Opening Number (“There’s No Business Like Show Business”), The Entr’acte, and “Who Do You Love, I Hope”. They have given me the greatest challenges and the cast have brought my vision to the stage beautifully.
I myself have done this show in my young adult life and it is one of my favorites. The style of the dancing in this piece is timeless and so is the music. Everyone and their mother know at least one song from this show.
JP: Being community theatre, albeit one of Nashville’s best, what’s the biggest challenge of choreographing this particular show?
TAYLOR TRACEY: The biggest challenge is time. We put up these wonderful shows in six weeks. Just trying to teach, clean, perfect and put it on its feet in that small amount of time is a challenge, one that the cast has taken in stride.
Rapid Fire with Austin Jeffrey Smith, Tommy Keeler in “Annie Get Your Gun”
JP: Like so many of your co-stars, you too are becoming a familiar face at the Keeton, having appeared in “Cabaret” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie”, the latter of which starred your “Annie Get Your Gun” love interest, Stella. What’s Stella like as a scene partner?
AUSTIN JEFFREY SMITH: Stella is a wonderful young actress and young woman! Sharing the stage with her so many times, this being the third time of being love interests, we are no strangers to one another. We each strive to portray characters to the best of our abilities and Stella always impresses me with her determination and drive. That being said it has been a pleasure of getting to know her and the natural chemistry of our friendship makes working together in scenes so fantastic! Also, we always have fun, on and off stage, which usually involves laughter! To me I could not ask for any better scene partner and great friend! She is going to do great things!
JP: You play Tommy Keeler, a young knife-thrower who’s part Irish, part Native American. Is there some aspect of Tommy as a character that you hope to highlight and bring to the forefront of your portrayal?
AUSTIN JEFFREY SMITH: Portraying Tommy, I feel as though he is a stronger individual than he comes across. While people judge him for being part Native American in a time of history when hardships were still just as hard, he rises above the criticism. Determination to be the best man he can be, for Himself and Winnie, and more than a half breed. This what Tommy hopes for most in his life and that’s what I hope to be able to portray successfully.
JP: As Tommy, you and Stella as Winnie are featured in “I’ll Share it All With You” and “Who Do You Love, I Hope”, two songs that express Tommy’s optimistic affection. Why do you think he’s so smitten?
AUSTIN JEFFREY SMITH: Well, while Tommy tries to not let Winnie’s sister, Dolly bring him down, he is bound and determined to be with Winnie for the rest of his life! The reasoning behind being so smitten is because he has found someone who loves him regardless of who or as some put it “what” he is. Being told he can’t have the girl he loves, and Winnie told the same, adds drive to their desire to be together even more. But to understand fully you’d have to come see the show, which I highly recommend!
JP: On the flip side, why should Winnie give Tommy a second chance?
AUSTIN JEFFREY SMITH: In the show, the two love birds are separated. While it is a Romeo and Juliet situation, luckily everyone lives! But seriously, I feel Winnie should give Tommy a second chance because even after all that time apart, he only thought and wants to be with her. The song “Who Do You Love, I Hope” is portrayed lyrically, and choreographed so that they both realize something. They both have missed one another and that in the end love is all they really needed.
Rapid Fire with Stella London, Winnie Tate in “Annie Get Your Gun”
JP: You’re playing Winnie, the younger sister of Frank’s assistant Dolly, and knife-thrower Tommy Keeler’s girlfriend. What’s your favorite aspect of Winnie’s character?
STELLA LONDON: Winnie has a lot of unexpected confidence for someone who is definitely a love bird type character. I really enjoy getting to be a little sassy!
JP: When I spoke with Chris, I told him, after appearing in “Cabaret” and now “Annie Get Your Gun”, he’s official a member of the Keeton family. If that’s the case, you’re a founding member, as I’ve literally watched you grow up on their stage. Some may not know, but of course your Mom is Jamie London, one of the driving forces behind the Keeton. How do you not let the mother/daughter relationship get between the director/actress relationship?
STELLA LONDON: That’s absolutely something that hasn’t always been easy. I’ve worked to make sure I’m not getting any type of special treatment, and I always audition for everything I’m in, so it’s really completely unbiased. In the past, I’ve gotten some backlash from cast mates, and it can be especially hard when I know I’ve worked for what I’m doing . But regardless of my tremendous respect and regard for her as my director, at the end of the day she’s still my mom, and it can be tough.
JP: In addition to appearing onstage at the Keeton numerous times, you’ve also been part of several shows’ backstage crews. How do you think working backstage enhances your performance on stage?
STELLA LONDON: I actually design lights for the shows here, (along with helping pull set pieces and organize the prop shop) with my co-designer Coleton Wood, and after doing it for multiple years, it really makes you respect the tech side of theatre. Sometimes being on stage, you’re really focused on your performance and what you need in that moment, but tech in any aspect can be frustrating, especially during “hell week”. I know, as an actor, it can be complicated when things aren’t done tech-wise, but knowing what goes on really keeps me mindful of truly how busy every single person is when creating a show.
JP: As Winnie, you’re featured in several songs and several of the ensemble numbers. What’s your favorite?
STELLA LONDON: My favorite number hands down is “I’ll Share It All” that I get to perform with Austin, who plays Tommy. We’ve actually acted side-by-side in 3 shows now, and each one gets easier and more fun! We always get to do fun tricks , sooo come to the show and see them for yourself!
Winnie, er um, Stella said it best, “Come to the show and see for yourself”. “Annie Get Your Gun” opens at The Larry Keeton Dinner Theatre (108 Donelson Pike, Nashville, TN 37214) on Thursday, October 6 and continues with shows Thursdays-Sundays until Saturday, October 22. The Larry Keeton Dinner Theatre offers dinner and show tickets for $30 (Children 12 and under dinner and show tickets are $20). Dinner seating begins at 6 p.m., with the show beginning at 7. Sunday lunch seating begins at 1 p.m. with the show starting at 2 p.m. Show only tickets are also available for $18 (Adults) and $15 (12 and under). Group discounts are available for $27/ea. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 615.883.8375 or Click Here.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest Rapid Fire 20 Q with the cast of The Larry Keeton Dinner Theatre’s “Annie Get Your Gun”, be sure and subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. Be sure and check back tomorrow for my review of opening night. You can also follow us on Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler. Interested in coverage of your performing arts events, be sure and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.