A sure-fire hit

Sheffield Theatres continue their successful run of festive musicals with Annie Get Your Gun this year. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.

You meet a lot of people doing this job. Given the type of people you meet – actors, writers, directors – you’d think most of them would be pretty memorable. Not so. Some of them stay in the mind far longer than others.

Anna-Jane Casey is not the most famous person I’ve ever interviewed in the line of duty, but she’s definitely one of the most memorable. I first met Casey when she was appearing alongside Daniel Evans in the Sondheim musical Company. That was back in 2011 and Casey was a riot. It had been a busy morning of rehearsals, but she was fizzing and crackling with energy over lunch.

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Casey was back at the Crucible last Christmas with Flowers for Mrs Harris, a new British musical, in a supporting role and she returns this Christmas as the lead in the festive spectacular production of Annie Get Your Gun.

The Christmas production has become quite the event at Sheffield Theatres in recent years.

It all began in 2010 with Me and My Girl, a huge new production that made everyone sit up and take notice, critics and audiences alike.

The following year it was a new production of Sondheim’s Company in which Daniel Evans, still fairly new to the job of artistic director at Sheffield, starred in his own production of the musical.

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Then came the 2012 production and the one that really made a Sheffield Christmas production something of which to take note. Dominic West was the star name in My Fair Lady. The production was immaculate and Carly Bawden as Eliza won the hearts of anyone who saw her. It set a high bar that the theatre has continued to meet with each new festive show.

Since then we’ve seen Oliver! (2013), Anything Goes (2014) and Showboat, another production that transferred into the West End, last year. This year the theatre is bringing to the stage the story of Annie Oakley.

One of the most famous women of her generation, as a star of Buffalo Bill Cody’s ‘Wild West’, she toured all over Europe and Australia. As a gunslinger, she could perform all the standard tricks and invented a few of her own. She was the contemporary equivalent of a rock star but for all her fame and fortune, ‘Little Sure Shot’ as she was nicknamed, remained true to her strict, religious upbringing. It’s a fascinating story and it’s become one of theatre’s most memorable musicals. Annie Get Your Gun boasts one of Irving Berlin’s most hummable, joyous scores. It wallops out hit after hit including the iconic There’s No Business Like Show Business. It was anything but an easy journey to the stage, but once it made it there, opening on Broadway in 1946, it became hugely popular, playing over 1,000 performances.

With Casey deep into rehearsals now, opening night will tell us how she’s taken on the challenge. Having seen her in performances over five years now, it’s clear that Casey’s name being the first on the bill has been a long time coming.

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It’s perfect casting: the lead in Annie Get Your Gun needs to be the smartest shootingest, smartest talkingest girl in town – Casey, believe me, fits the bill.

Annie Get Your Gun is at Sheffield Crucible, until January 21.