Hale Centre's Annie Get Your Gun Satisfies as Only a Summer Re-Run Can

It hardly seems fair to comment on Hale Centre Theatre's hyper-cheerful Annie Get Your Gun. In a better world, a community theater production of the Irving Berlin perennial would be exempt from the considerations of any critic. But it's summer in Phoenix, which means three months of warhorses performed by well-meaning amateurs. And I am a columnist with a quota to fill.

This Annie is not without its charms. Matt Crosby sings Frank Butler's numbers in a warm, clear voice and brings a calm appeal to this famously caddish cowboy. And the two dozen musical numbers are more than ably executed by a floor full of non-dancers, thanks to Tamera Young's spirited choreography (rather a lot of which was lifted from previous professional stagings and, in a couple of cases, the 1950 film version of this musical celebration of male chauvinism).

Everything else was merely competent. I don't give, as the song goes, a tinker's cuss for musicals performed to prerecorded tracks, and I'm distracted by craft-store props and poorly painted flats. But Herbert and Dorothy Fields' bio of sharpshooter Annie Oakley is always hard to resist, in part because any excuse to listen to Berlin's magnificent score — even when it's warbled by laypeople and teenagers — is one worth taking. Some justice is done to hard-to-harm ensemble numbers like "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "I'm an Indian, Too," and Crosby's duets with his Annie, Erica Smith, provide the performance's high points.

On her own, Smith merely hits her marks (and, to be fair, each of her high notes) as the Wild West's famous fraulein sharpshooter. There's no real connection between the actress and the rough-and-tumble ragamuffin she's portraying; hers is a Central Casting Annie Oakley, cheerfully on-key and completely disconnected from the backwoods babe written by the Fieldses.

I was captivated by the show's wigging, some of the absolute worst I've seen ever, anywhere. I forgot to notice singing and acting and story each time an actor appeared in another towering hat made of shiny, nylon hair. The Indians sported frizzy dollar-store Dynel braids, and the Ohio maidens appeared to have all visited the same beautician — one who favored abrupt hairlines and steam-scorched plastic ringlets.

But what did I expect? This is shopping mall theater, designed to please a less discerning crowd, and should perhaps be excused from any kind of assessment. The granny to my right, who sang along with every number and commented aloud on several of Annie's bigger moments, seemed to enjoy herself. And in downtown Gilbert on a muggy summer night, that might be the most any theater production can hope for.