Although the role of Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin's 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun was written for and most closely associated with bold and brassy Ethel Merman, the part has been effectively interpreted by other actress/singers with less bravura approaches. Betty Hutton brought her usual dizzy energy to the 1950 film version, for example, while Mary Martin gave a warmer and more subtle portrayal both in the first national tour in 1947 and on a live television broadcast in 1957 (chronicled on a TV soundtrack album). Bernadette Peters pays greater attention to the Martin version than any other in her personable performance in the 1999 Broadway revival, an approach consistent with the overall style of the production. Orchestrator Bruce Coughlin takes the music down from the sub-operatic arrangements of Robert Russell Bennett in the original. Responding to the Western subject matter, the decision to add dance sequences, and the new show-within-a-show structure (with its exaggerated staginess), he has come up with charts emphasizing country & western influences that had no place in earlier versions.
Coughlin is also fond of building numbers; for example, the show now starts with a slow, thoughtful rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" sung by male lead Tom Wopat that turns into an introduction of the show and the cast, while "I Got the Sun in the Morning" similarly starts as a tender ballad sung by Peters that turns into a square dance-based production number. Meanwhile, "Who Do You Love, I Hope?" gives way to ragtime dance music halfway through. In keeping with this earthier interpretation, the singers eschew the belting of Merman and her cohorts for a close-miked, conversational crooning style full of expressive line readings and interjections. Just as Peters suits this approach, it suits her. She is anything but the kind of stentorian singer Merman was, tending instead toward a breathy huskiness and using a country accent that probably exaggerates Oakley's (she was from Ohio, not Oklahoma) but is right, for instance, for the hillbilly arrangement of "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly." Wopat, best known as a television actor despite obvious vocal gifts, remains more an actor than a singer, but he has considerable presence and his tenor versions of ballads like "They Say It's Wonderful" are very effective.
The stage production on which this cast album is based was criticized on a number of fronts. Peters, it was said, was miscast (though she managed to win the Tony Award); the overall staging was cheaply done; and Peter Stone's politically correct update of the book, which eliminated "I'm an Indian, Too," was excessive. These are fair criticisms, but they don't have much effect on the album. Most recorded versions cut minor songs, anyway. This one also drops "Colonel Buffalo Bill" and "I'm a Bad, Bad Man," but it restores the two songs sung by the second leads, "I'll Share It All With You" and "Who Do You Love, I Hope?," which were cut from the 1966 Broadway revival, and since Andrew Palermo and Nicole Ruth Snelson are a winning couple, that's a plus. On record, anyway, this is an Annie Get Your Gun for the '90s (and given the show's long run, the new century as well), with a more intimate and eclectic style than any before it.