Annie Get Your Gun

Book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields. Based on the life story of Annie Oakley. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. The original Broadway production opened on 26 May 1946 and was directed by Joshua Logan, with choreography by Helen Tamiris. The production closed on 12 February 1949, running for a total of 1 147 performances.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

Outside the Wilson House hotel on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, Charlie Davenport, manager of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show enters with his sister, Dolly Tate to drum up business for the show. They dramatically enact the heroic episodes of their boss as a crowd of onlookers becomes involved (COLONEL BUFFALO BILL). Foster Wilson, the hotel proprietor is furious that Charlie has advertised a shooting contest between the Town’s best sharpshooter and Frank Butler the show’s star on the hotel grounds, and he orders them off the premises. Charlie sends Dolly into the hotel to charm Wilson, a bachelor. Frank Butler, left alone with the young girls of the town warns them about his reputation (I’M A BAD, BAD MAN).


Bruce Sanderson as Frank Butler singing “My Defenses are Down” in a 1995 South African production at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth.

Dolly enters after failing to change Wilson’s mind and sits down to rest near a hedge. A shot rings out knocking a decorative bird off Dolly’s hat. She looks around fearfully as Annie Oakley, a tomboyish, rather grubby girl, in well-worn clothes enters. Wilson arrives to see Annie pointing a gun at Dolly who hastily exits. She attempts to sell some game birds to Wilson who is impressed by her shooting. When he orders twenty-four, Annie has to call her three sisters and brother Jake to judge the amount. Since they can only count to twenty Annie promises to deliver that amount. Wilson questions her about the family’s lack of reading and writing ability but they reply that back home it wasn’t necessary to have book learning (DOIN’ WHAT COMES NATUR’LLY). Wilson offers her five dollars to enter the shooting match against Frank Butler, whom he refers to as a swollen headed stiff. Annie agrees and confidently begins cleaning her gun but is interrupted by the handsome Butler who is appalled by the antiquity of her rifle and the bluntness of her manner. She, on the other hand, is overwhelmed by his outstanding good looks and listens closely as he tells her of his ideal woman (THE GIRL THAT I MARRY). ANnie, realizing she has to be more than a good shot to trap someone like Frank into marriage, ponders her situation (YOU CAN’T GET A MAN WITH A GUN).


Jeremy Baylis as Chief Sitting Bull in a 1995 South African production at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth.

Buffalo Bill arrives to referee the contest. When Wilson introduces Annie everyone is shocked that he has entered a girl against Frank Butler, but they are easily impressed when she wins. Despite Frank’s unenthusiastic response to the idea, Buffalo Bill encourages Charlie to offer her a job with the show. They assure Frank that Annie will only assist him in the act and not do any fancy shooting that might endanger his status as number one. The three men tell her of the perils and thrills of show business (THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS).

The show moves by train and the scene shifts to the Pullman parlor of a train at night. The car is full of Indians with wash and living items scattered about. Dolly enters, furious that Annie has given the Indians permission to use her car but Charlie comes to Annie’s defense and Annie settles down with Little Jake to study her spelling. The two are interrupted by Frank, whom Annie is hopelessly in love with. He is also becoming fond of her and asks if she has ever been in love with someone. The two are afraid of the other’s reaction so they talk of the things they’ve heard about love (THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL). By the end of the number Frank realizes he loves her, they embrace. Charlie and Buffalo Bill, in hopes of getting business away from competitor Pawnee Bill, ask Annie to perform her motorcycle riding and shooting trick in Minneapolis. Annie, convinced by the two that Frank will be proud of her agrees. Her brother and sisters are enjoying the excitement of show business so much that it is difficult to get them to sleep. They beg Annie for a lullaby and she agrees (MOONSHINE LULLABY).

Frank, feeling threatened when he sees a large poster of Annie outside the performance arena, warns Charlie that he will quit the show if the posters stay up. Charlie and Buffalo Bill, knowing the show is in financial difficulty, have no choice but to have Annie perform her trick shooting. Charlie begins the pitch to draw an audience as the company joins in (WILD WEST PITCH DANCE). Charlie’s spiel is cut short by the entrance of Pawnee Bill and Sitting Bull who have come to see Annie perform. Charlie and Buffalo Bill attempt to interest the oil rich Sitting Bull in making an investment but the chief refuses. Frank, attempts to propose to Annie but she insists he waits until after her performance, he agrees and tells his friends he is going to be married (MY DEFENSES ARE DOWN). The stage goes dark and the lights suddenly rise on Annie who is lying on a motorcycle, steering with her feet and shooting at lighted candles attached to a wheel on the main tent pole. The crowd goes wild but Frank refuses to follow such a tremendous spectacle. Annie enters anxious to discover Frank’s reaction but is unable to talk to him because Sitting Bull, who labels her the best marksman he has ever seen, announces his wish to adopt her as his daughter. The ceremony begins (WILD HORSE CEREMONIAL DANCE), and Annie becomes Sitting Bull’s daughter (I’M AN INDIAN TOO). At the end of the ritual Annie is exhausted and surprised to receive a letter from Frank; in the excitement she didn’t realize how upset he was. She enlists the aid of Papa Bull who reads that Frank has left with Dolly to do his old act at Pawnee Bill’s show. Annie is crushed and sadly remembers that YOU CAN’T GET A MAN WITH A GUN.


Jeremy Baylis as Chief Sitting Bull, Leslie Speyers as Charlie Davenport and Jacqui Gates as Dolly Tate in a 1995 South African production at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth.

Months later, the troupe is camped atop the deck of a cattle boat in New York Harbor; they have just returned from a successful tour of Europe and are broke because European Royalty doesn’t pay for command performances – they only award medals. Charlie tells Annie they are broke and the U.S. Government has placed Papa Bull on a weekly allowance. Their depression is interrupted when someone from Pawnee Bill’s outfit arrives to invite them to a reception in New York. Papa Bull suggests the two shows merge and Annie anxious for a chance to reunite with Frank, agrees. She quietly sits alone and remembers (I GOT LOST IN HIS ARMS).

At The Ballroom of the Hotel Brevoort in New York, Pawnee Bill, Frank and Dolly tell Mr. and Mrs. Adams, two wealthy society patrons about the perils of Show Business (THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS [REPRISE]). The subsequent meeting between the two owners is a disaster for both discover neither one has any money. Papa Bull saves the day when he realizes that Annie’s medals are worth $100,000, enough to finance the merger. Charlie warns Annie that she is giving up her only tangible wealth, but she retorts that she has enough in life (I GOT THE SUN IN THE MORNING). Frank joins in and the two are reunited. Frank proposes and begins to describe the wedding he wants, but Annie envisions a very large wedding, in direct opposition to his need for a simple one (AN OLD FASHIONED WEDDING – a new song incorporated into the show for the 1966 revival). The two argue and decide to have one big shooting match to determine who is the best sharp- shooter in the world.


Bruce Sanderson as Frank Butler and Julie Dickson as Annie Oakley in a 1995 South African production at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth.

On the loading platform for the Ferry to Coney Island, Dolly attempts to sabotage Annie’s guns but is stopped by Papa Bull and her brother Charlie. Charlie is furious, but Papa Bull knows that if Annie wins the match she will lose Frank, so he and Charlie sabotage the guns. At Coney Island the shooting match is about to begin but Annie and Frank delay things by arguing about their talents (ANYTHING YOU CAN DO). The competition begins with Annie missing two simple shots. Frank offers her one of his guns and she gets a hit. Papa Bull, worried that she may win with Frank’s gun, takes her aside to explain she must lose the competition to marry Frank. She purposely misses the next shot and the two agree to be lifetime partners as the two shows merge (FINALE).

Alternate versions of the show include a sub-plot and two duets (I’D SHARE IT ALL WITH YOU and WHO DO YOU LOVE, I HOPE) for Tommy and Winnie. The show was revised for the 1999 Broadway revival, with a new book by Peter Stone. The Tommy and Winnie duets were included, but I’M A BAD, BAD MAN and I’M AN INDIAN TOO were cut.


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