Ogden Musical Theatre loads up with ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ at Peery’s Egyptian

Thursday , July 26, 2018 - 1:53 PM

OGDEN — Mickey Larson doesn’t do guns.

The Roy woman was raised in a home — and she now raises her children in such a home — that wouldn’t touch a firearm with a 10-foot pole.

“I don’t shoot guns in real life,” Larson recently told the Standard-Examiner. “When I was growing up, we were not even allowed to have squirt guns. And my kids are not allowed to have squirt guns, either. So it’s been kind of an odd thing.”

The “odd thing” is the irony that Larson is now playing the title role in “Annie Get Your Gun,” the Irving Berlin/Dorothy and Herbert Fields musical about Wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her romance with fellow marksman Frank Butler.

“Annie Get Your Gun” is the latest offering from Ogden Musical Theatre, the fledgling group that’s bringing semi-professional theater back to Peery’s Egyptian Theater in downtown Ogden. The show opens Thursday, July 26, and continues through Aug. 11.

To prepare for the role, Larson says her onstage love interest, played by actor BJ Whimpey, took her to the shooting range.

“BJ, who is playing Frank Butler, he is amazing,” she said. “He and his dad are uber gun people, and they took me shooting.”

Larson says she needed that experience because not only does she not know how to shoot a gun, they won’t even be using blanks in the show — Browning has removed the firing pins from 1890s-era rifles and loaned them to the production.

As a result, Larson has to be able to simulate what it looks like when a gun kicks back.

“Every night, they show me what muscles to activate to simulate that kickback,” she said.

But the funniest part, according to Larsen, was the day her co-star and his father took her to the shooting range.

“We pull up — I’m with BJ and his dad — and this little sweet man came out of the shooting range,” she said. “And he quietly told me, ‘Don’t be better than the boys, they don’t like that.’ I was, like, how ironic that I’m doing this musical.”

In “Annie Get Your Gun,” Annie chooses love over pride, deliberately missing shots in a contest with Frank so as not to bruise his ego.

Larson has a bachelor’s degree in musical theater from Weber State University. However, between raising two children and helping her husband with their construction business, she hadn’t had a lot of time lately for acting. She did manage to squeeze in the Maria Von Trapp role three years ago in CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s “The Sound of Music.”

What’s more, paying acting gigs in the state are few and far between.

“Especially in Utah it’s hard to make a living in theater — mostly because everybody does it for free around here,” she said.

But Maurie Tarbox is aiming to change all that. Tarbox is artistic director for Ogden Musical Theatre, whose goal is to create one big production a year in the Weber County-owned Peery’s Egyptian Theater. One of Tarbox’s stipulations in accepting the artistic director role was that the OMT jobs would pay.

Ten years ago, Tarbox was involved with Utah Musical Theatre, an organization that worked to bring professional summer theater to Ogden. When that group closed up shop, Tarbox had always wanted to see live theater back in the Egyptian Theater.

“Having that equity-theater professional experience is something I want to try to give our actors and crew — that same experience — even though our pay is not on that level,” she said. “I told the (county) commissioners I wouldn’t come on board unless they paid the actors something.”

OMT had tried to coax Jim Christian, who originally ran UMT, into the artistic directorship, but he turned them down.

“He’d retired, and said he didn’t want to go down that road again,” Tarbox said.

Tarbox said OMT’s goal is to do two shows in the summer — “a big one and a small one” — and then do two musical-theater concerts outside that summer window.

“That’s really all there’s time for,” she said, “because of the theater being a rental facility.”

The company’s inaugural production was last year’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which Tarbox said was a perfect fit for a theater with an Egyptian theme. Next year, they’re doing the ambitious “Peter Pan,” with Christian agreeing to direct.

But this year, it’s “Annie Get Your Gun.”

The musical is filled with all sorts of toe-tapping show tunes, including “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” “Anything You Can Do” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

“People will go, ‘Oh my goodness, I didn’t know that song was in here,’ ” Tarbox said.

The one fly in the ointment of producing the musical was that the original show made the American Indians look “really terrible,” according to Tarbox. As a result, for the longest time the show simply wasn’t done in polite America.

“And there’s still a stigma,” Tarbox said. “We had a hard time finding a Native American to play Sitting Bull, because the show had such bad connotations to our Native American friends.”

Director Liz Smith, who choreographed last year’s “Joseph” production, signed on to direct this year’s offering before she even knew what it was. When she learned it was “Annie Get Your Gun,” she, too, had reservations.

“The original show was written in the ’40s, and it was very racist against Native Americans,” said Smith, who lives in Herriman and teaches theater at Bingham High School.

However, the current production is from a revival from the late 1990s starring Bernadette Peters, and many of the offensive parts were rewritten.

Although still somewhat dated, “Annie Get Your Gun” deals with issues of sexism, racism and bigotry — issues we’re still addressing in today’s society, according to Smith.

“When I think about Annie Oakley, she doesn’t look at people for their status in society, or their race, or what gender they are,” Smith said. “She just looks if someone is a good person — that’s what matters most.”

Smith thinks that’s a good example for modern society.

Larson agrees that the updated script is a marked improvement.

“I read an old ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ script, and it is so offensive,” she said. “It’s terrible to women, terrible to Indians, terrible to everyone. I was, like, ‘I don’t know if I’m even going to audition for this.’ ”

But even updated, the actors have to be wary, according to Larson.

“It’s bad writing for women, so we have to be careful with the delivery,” she said. “That’s why I think they chose a woman to direct it. You really have to massage the delivery of the lines, because otherwise it can come across as anti-women.”

In the end, what “Annie Get Your Gun” turns out to be, according to Larson and the others, is totally enjoyable entertainment.

“It’s just a really fun evening,” Larson said. “And a lot of people will be seeing it for the first time in a very long time, if ever. It’s a show that really speaks to Ogden.”

Tarbox said OMT isn’t trying to replace UMT, but they are hoping to fill some of the void left when that professional company exited stage right.

“It will never be Utah Musical Theatre, but I’m hoping the people who come to our shows will feel like it’s a pretty good semi-professional show they’re seeing,” she said.

Tarbox is overcome with emotion when she talks about her goals for Ogden Musical Theatre.

“I want the theater to be a place that is not just educational for people and will make them think,” she said. “I especially want it to be a place where people can come and forget the difficulties of their daily life. Life is hard, and theater can almost be an escape for a couple of hours.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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