You wouldn't re-edit Welles or modernize Hemingway's sexist characters, but on the Great White Way, treating the original books of musicals as first drafts is par for the course.
One show that has received a major face-lift is the 1946 Annie, Get Your Gun. Gone now are the insensitive lyrics to "I'm an Indian Too," which used terms like "eagle nose" and "hatchet face." A more feminist Annie Oakley no longer throws a shooting match with rival Wild West Show sharpshooter Frank Butler to win his affections. Or rather, she throws it so obviously that Butler decides to couple with her on equal terms (which is closer to the real-life Butler, who had no problem stepping aside to manage Oakley's career).
The NRA might not like it, but this Annie isn't exactly locked and loaded. "Annie Oakley was a sharpshooter, which means she shot targets with a gun, and it's in the title of the show, so you can't really have her give tea parties," says Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which holds Irving Berlin's copyrights. Still, gun-control activist Rosie O'Donnell prevented the number "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun" from airing on her show, and the cast appeared unarmed at the Tony Awards. In order to dilute the subject matter, fake-looking wooden guns are used, and to protect our virgin ears, rim shots and foot stomping now replace the sound of real gunfire.
Annie, Get Your Gun
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana
Runs Tuesday, December 19, through Saturday, December 23, at 8 p.m. Matinees Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 24, at 2 p.m. $31.25-$56.25. For tickets, call (713)629-3700.
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For good or ill, revising a script is sometimes the only way a show like Annie will ever get seen. Unchanged Annie "could have withstood the test of time, but the practicality of it is that the way Broadway works, people don't like what it sounds like," Chapin says. "Even though I don't think that the original was terribly outdated, I think it needed to have work done on it in order to make people accept it."