Foothills Community Players blends talents for ‘Annie Get Your Gun’

Rehearsing for the upcoming production of “Annie Get Your Gun” by the Foothills Community Players are Natalee Elkins as Dolly Tate; John Cherry as Frank Butler; Chuck Sayne as Chief Sitting Bull; James Gann as Charlie Davenport; Keith McDaniel as Buffalo Bill Cody; and Mary Beth Bonneville as Annie Oakley.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Rehearsing for the upcoming production of “Annie Get Your Gun” by the Foothills Community Players are Natalee Elkins as Dolly Tate; John Cherry as Frank Butler; Chuck Sayne as Chief Sitting Bull; James Gann as Charlie Davenport; Keith McDaniel as Buffalo Bill Cody; and Mary Beth Bonneville as Annie Oakley.

Cast members for “Annie Get Your Gun” practice one of the dance numbers.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Cast members for “Annie Get Your Gun” practice one of the dance numbers.

A musician, Warren Cuccurullo, once said, “The lights go down, you hear the applause, and you’re up there, and then everything else is forgotten.”

The hard-working group of Foothills Community Players may well feel that way should the audience respond favorably to “Annie Get Your Gun,” which opens Friday, July 1, at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

If so, says director Dana Wham, they’ve got a lot of hard work to “forget.”

Putting together a musical show is hard work, said Wham, and this group was more than up to the task.

“Don’t come expecting an amateur show,” said Wham. “Come expecting professionals because that is what you’re going to get.”

The director said the experience level is varied but the quality of the show is high.

“You have people who are pros as well as people for whom this is the first time they’ve done this. That presents its own set of challenges,” she said. “We have kids, teens and one or two adults that this is their first show. When you have to blend the pros with amateurs, it is really hard. The community may come expecting an amateur performance, and it really isn’t. We have people who have done 50 to 75 shows.”

Several of the actors on stage for “Annie Get Your Gun” are triple threats talent-wise, said Wham. “When you do a musical, the actors have to be a triple threat where they can sing, dance and act,” Wham said. “We have people who really are triple threats.”

Wham said the people behind the scenes are professionals in every sense of the word, starting with the choreographer Courtney Vastine, who also teaches at Artistic Dance Unlimited.

“You have to have a choreographer who can teach rank amateurs and make them look like professionals,” Wham said.

Adam Baranowski is a professional lighting designer. “This is his job he does all the time,” she said.

Mary Beth Bonneville has the title role of Annie. She grew up in community theater in Oklahoma, was on stage with community theater at age 16 and toured on a regional theater circuit after college until she “settled down and married at 30,” she said.

“I enjoyed doing the regional theater circuit, but it is a hard life for very little money. I always knew community theater was where I wanted to go back to, mostly because people are so nice, and you do have so much fun,” she said.

Bonneville persuaded Wham, a Maryville native living in Oak Ridge, to return and direct for the FCP’s second musical. Their first, “Music Man” brought musicals back to Blount County after a long break.

“As a performer, it has been kind of easy. We’ve had such good people behind us. Dana Wham is an amazing director, and Courtney Vastine is an amazing choreographer,” Bonneville said. “She has to choreograph for dancers and non-dancers.”

The experience level of the cast varies from people with years of acting on their resumes to people just starting out. “We have a dentist in the show and a film maker in the show. We have people from all walks of life,” Wham said.

Bonneville said one family who came to a workshop the FCP organized earlier this year had just arrived in town from Florida. “Three of the girls in the family got parts, and their mother is doing the stage dressing , and I believe their father has helped with set building,” she said. “When we say this is community, we’re serious. If there is a will, we will find a way, and we’ll put you to work.”

Individuals from as far out as Louisville and Greenback are participating in the play. “One of the kids in the cast lives so far out in Greenback he spends the night on Fridays at our house to come back in for Saturday’s rehearsal,” Bonneville said. “The kids are from William Blount, Heritage, Maryville and Alcoa high schools and some of them are home-schooled.”

Wham said the actors rehearse together for six to eight weeks and become a family. “This is a lot of hours. They’re committing eight weeks of their life every single night to make this happen,” she said.

Bonneville said she never gets tired of performing at the Clayton Center, even though she has had the opportunity to act on stages across the country. “This is still the most amazing theater I’ve every worked in and by far the largest stage I’ve ever worked on,” she said. “I’ve been on some of the best known stages in the country, and they have nothing on this place.”

Foothills Community Players wraps their third season with the musical.

For the better part of the past three decades, the spectacle and pageantry of the summer musical was virtually nonexistent locally until Foothills Community Players ended the drought with its 2010 production of The Music Man at the Clayton Center for the Arts, said FCP president Lisa Blair.

“We’ve gotten numerous comments from people outside our group who saw both our production of “The Music Man” and the one recently staged at UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre,” said Blair. “And we’ve been told time and time again that our show was right on par with theirs. That’s very encouraging for us, considering it was our first musical production.”

“Annie Get Your Gun” is a family-friendly American musical based on the lives of sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler. Set in the late 1800s against the backdrop of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the production takes audiences on an around-the-world journey filled with music, romance and competitions of marksmanship.

The show’s cast of 28 actors, singers and dancers will perform the 1999 Broadway revival version of Irving Berlin’s composition. Featured songs include “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “Anything You Can Do” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The FCP production includes a live orchestra, 19th-century costumes, high-energy choreography and fun special effects.

“It’s been a blast bringing the summer musical back to Blount County,” said Foothills Community Players Vice President John Cherry, who is playing the role of Frank Butler. “I grew up on the Maryville College stage at the old theater, and now I get to play on the big stage at the Clayton Center. It’s exciting to be a part of the rebirth of this local tradition.”

It’s also been a full-circle experience for director Wham, who is marking her return to her old Blount County stomping grounds with “Annie Get Your Gun.”

“John Cherry and I were in Brigadoon together back in the early 1970s at the old Maryville College theater, and we hadn’t really been in contact since then,” said Wham. “I’m very happy to see this kind of community-based entertainment come back to Blount County.”

Tickets for Annie Get Your Gun are $22 with discounted prices of $18 for seniors age 65 and older as well as students through college age. Discounts are also available for groups of 20 or more.

The show is set for Friday and Saturday, July 1-2, and Thursday through Saturday, July 7-9, at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are Sundays, July 3 and 10, at 2 p.m.

For tickets, call the Clayton Center Box Office at 865-981-8590. For other inquiries, call the FCP info line at 865-712-6428.

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