By Pat Launer

Two musical chestnuts have rolled onto local stages — and both productions fail to crack the shell and make them seem fresh.

“Annie Get Your Gun” (1946) has one of Irving Berlin’s most delectable scores, with classics like “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and “Anything You Can Do.”

San Diego Musical Theatre’s production is energetic, even a little hyper at times, given director/choreographer John Todd’s showy, show-offy dance numbers, where high kicks rule, whether they’re organic to the show or not (often, not).

The large cast is headed by Beth Malone, a Broadway veteran fresh off a stint at New York’s Public Theatre in the premiere production of the musical “Fun Home.” As country bumpkin sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who laments that she “Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” Malone has a powerhouse voice and an engaging presence (despite a less than felicitous wig). Her macho co-star (and recent “Grinch” at the Globe) is Steve Blanchard, as gunslinging Frank Butler, who’s somewhat less vocally impressive in this role, though their connection is credible.

As Buffalo Bill Cody, John Polhamus has the most mellifluous voice on the stage, and Debbie David is fine as Dolly Tate, the nasty/jealous assistant to Mr. Butler. Paul Morgavo is convincing as Buffalo Bill’s general manager, Charlie Davenport. And the kids, Annie’s young sibs, are adorable and talented (especially the littlest, Noah Baird).

The ensemble is often directed to face the audience and either emote or belt (or kick). The duets come off best. The 22-piece orchestra sounded muffled behind the curtain during the overture, and though their sound is lively and robust, under the baton of musical director Don LeMaster, they seem out of place, and sometimes intrusive, being positioned onstage.

The sets (rented but uncredited) change rapidly and work well; same for the costumes. There’s a strained feel to the proceedings overall. Everyone seems to be trying too hard.

Same can be said of “Grease” at the Welk Theatre. It looks good, and there’s some fine choreography and dance (though not enough of it).

Since the musical (written in 1971 by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey) is set in a 1950s high school, it’s hard to buy the interracial interactions we see here. I’m all for color-blind casting, but not if it violates the sense of time and place. An African American Rizzo, the spiteful and promiscuous leader of the exclusionary Pink Ladies group at school, is a bit hard to swallow. In general, the characters are played one-dimensionally and are not sufficiently distinguished.

As the virginal, goody-goody Sandy, Rachel Davis is lovely to look at and listen to. As heartthrob Danny Zuko, Nick Adorno has the moves and the chops. Rex Smith, who played Danny years ago, is smarmy as the DJ (and is reading his lines!) but more effective as Teen Angel, vocally knocking it out of the park for “Beauty School Dropout.”

If your Greasy memories are of the 1978 film, don’t expect to hear the title tune onstage (it appeared in some late revivals, but not the original, which was actually a lot raunchier than what you see at the Welk. These girls, including Rizzo, are pretty squeaky-clean). Nonetheless, the songs are lively and the band (musical direction and piano by Justin Gray) sounds great.

There is the nagging issue of the underlying theme of “Grease”: If you want to make it with the tough-talking, hubcap-stealing, leather-clad crowd in high school, you’d better dress and act like a slut. Nice message.

For me, Grease is not the word.

  • Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun” runs through May 25 at the North Park TheatrePerformances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at 858-560-5740 or online at
  • Greasecontinues through July 27 at the Welk Theatre in Escondido. Performances are Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday at 1p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. At 7 p.m. every Wednesday in May and June, Rex Smith presents his solo show, “Confessions of a Teen Idol.” Tickets are available at 1-888-802-7469 or online at

Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at