It’s a show with a cast described as “family” by the director.
And that director is hailed as “our old friend” by the theater’s board president.
After scant minutes at Temple Civic Theatre’s rehearsal, there’s the unmistakable atmosphere of familial cooperation as cast, crew and director tackle the Irving Berlin classic “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Director Kelly Parker bounds across the stage, exhorting, laughing and explaining the effect he’s after to the actors. Several of the principals exchange “ah-ha” glances after Parker demonstrates a tricky bit of blocking. Even though it’s closing in on 9 p.m. on a weeknight, the ensemble pays rapt attention to their director. If anyone’s tired, they’re not showing it.
Parker is no stranger to TCT; he was awarded a TCT scholarship when he graduated from Belton High School. After stints around Texas and in New York both acting and directing, he landed at McLennan Community College in Waco, where he is a theater professor. With degrees from Baylor and Texas Tech, Parker is the patriarch of this musical production.
“Annie” premiered in 1946, but “we’re staging the 1966 version,” Parker said, “warts and all.” Revised to exclude the most dated and politically incorrect parts of the libretto, the 1966 iteration is considered “kind of a museum piece — but at its heart, it’s a very simple love story.”
The tale is a fanciful telling of Annie Oakley’s romance with sharpshooter Frank Butler when both starred in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Even after 60-plus years, the almost overbearing aura of Ethel Merman, the original Annie Oakley, hangs over every production. Caralie Greven of Copperas Cove won the audition to play the title character.
An intern family life counselor at Fort Hood, Greven is delighted, and seems up to the challenge.
“I started in musical theater when I was 10 years old,” she said. “My original undergraduate major was musical theater at St. Martins University in Washington State, but I changed to psychology for a more secure financial future.”
Temple’s Doug Fischer is cast as Frank Butler. His robust physical stage presence belies his day job as a cello teacher at Academie Musique. Fischer also performs with the Temple Symphony.
In the role of William F. Cody is Killeen’s James Kline, officer in charge of the Collier Clinic at Fort Hood. It’s his second stage show, having just finished portraying Mr. Bumble in “Oliver” at Killeen’s Vive Les Arts.
“I’m very excited to do ‘Annie’,” Kline said, “and it’s my son’s debut.” Elias Kline, 7, follows in his dad’s footsteps, speaking his lines clear and true.
Holding their scripts, the cast reads their lines on the bare stage, illuminated by the overhead work lights. The finished sets won’t be sparse, Parker said, but “rather simple, so we can have quick scene changes.” With no cuts, the show’s book clocks in at about three hours. “Too long,” according to Parker, so judicious cuts are made in nearly every production. The instrumental music will be reproduced electronically, with the marvels of computer technology standing in for live musicians.
The cast is eager to get to the patented showstoppers: “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “Anything You Can Do,” and, of course, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Snippets of the tunes waft down the aisles of now-empty seats as the actors trade musical excerpts. Then the light tenor voice of director Parker beckons. He beams like a proud father and says, “It’s a fabulous cast.”