Irving Berlin 2
The Works of Irving Berlin 5
Cast and Creative Team 8
Annie Get Your Gun – A History 10
Historical Context 20
The American Dream 22
Native Americans 24
Musical Theatre of the 1940s 27
Drama Games based around Annie Get Your Gun 29
Interview with Richard Jones, Director 35
Interview with David Lan, Artistic Director of the Young Vic 37
Interview with James McKeon, Musical Director 41
Interview with David Ricardo-Pearce, Actor (Understudy Frank Butler) 43
Interview with Matt Turner, Actor (Ensemble) 45
Rehearsal Diary by Oliver Mears and Rikki Henry, Assistant Directors 46
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Compiled by: Adam Penford
Young Vic 2009
First performed at the Young Vic on Saturday 3rd October 2009
Annie Get Your Gun
By Irving Berlin
1. IRVING BERLIN (1888 – 1989)
Irving Berlin was one of the great American songwriters. His canon includes 19 stage musicals (of which Annie Get Your Gun is the most famous), 18 film musicals and over 1,500 songs. He was nominated for seven Oscars over his career. Jerome Kern [Award-winning composer of Showboat] once said “Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.”
Berlin was born Israel Isidore Baline in Belarus, Russia in 1888. His Father worked as a cantor [singing instructor] in the local synagogue. Following the death of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, rumours abounded that the Jewish minority population were to blame and anti-Semitic violence spread throughout the country. These sporadic pogroms [riots] drove many Jews to seek asylum in America and in 1893 Berlin’s family joined them.
The family of 11 settled on the Lower East Side of New York alongside thousands of other immigrants. Conditions were bleak and they lived in a basement flat without windows or hot water. Berlin’s father died when he was only 8 years old and Irving was forced to abandon schooling to take a job as a newspaper boy. He later said that it was whilst selling papers outside restaurants that he overheard the latest dance hits being played inside and began to sing them to attract sales. Around this time, frustrated with the little amount he was contributing to the family, he moved out to live on the streets. There he befriended other youngsters and they formed a group, busking in bars and restaurants. At 18 he found a job as a singing waiter at a café and amused customers by improvising rude lyrics to popular songs. Staying in the café after closing time he taught himself to play the piano by picking out simple melodies. He took the name of Irving Berlin as it was easier for his customers to remember.
In 1909, aged 21, Berlin was given the role of staff lyricist at the Ted Snyder Company, producing songs at an astonishing rate. His break came in 1911 when he penned the tune of ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’. Success wasn’t instant however: Berlin sold the song to a Broadway producer who placed it in his review show but it was soon cut as the audience response was lukewarm. Undeterred, Berlin wrote lyrics to accompany the melody and resold it to a new producer and show - the Variety magazine review picked out the number as the “musical sensation of the decade.” The song’s popularity swiftly spread throughout the country and Berlin wrote his first full-length musical, Watch This Step, which consisted of similar, up-tempo numbers. ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ has subsequently been re-released many times by artists including Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and Ray Charles.
Irving Berlin married Dorothy Goetz in 1912 but tragically she contracted typhoid fever on their honeymoon and died 6 months later. Berlin was heartbroken and wrote ‘When I Lost You’ in tribute to his wife - his first ballad, and it sold a million copies. This led him to realise that the up-tempo, ragtime style he had previously specialised in could not capture all the emotions he wished to convey through his writing and made a conscious effort to expand his musical vocabulary. He was already renowned for his prowess as a lyricist, writing direct, simple prose in the popular vernacular that connected with the average American. Now his musical skills had caught up with his lyrical genius, a crucial development in his journey to becoming a truly great songwriter.
America entered the First World War in 1917 and Broadway’s songwriters were called upon to write songs which would promote national spirit. Berlin co-wrote the acclaimed ‘Let’s All Be Americans Now’, which asked the population to put aside their racial prejudices for the benefit of the war effort. Reports that he was being drafted into the army became headline news later that year when the army asked him to write and star in a musical review about the services. Berlin wrote Yip Yip Yaphank which transferred to Broadway in 1918.
After the war, Berlin went into partnership with colleague Sam Harris and built the Music Box Theatre. Over the next decade he wrote a series of musical reviews for the venue. (The Music Box is still one of the most successful and popular theatres on Broadway, hosting hit plays and musicals.) He also focussed on writing film scores such as Top Hat (1935), Holiday Inn (1942) and Easter Parade (1948), featuring MGM stars like Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Bing Crosby. Berlin met the lady who was to become his second wife, Ellin Mackay, in 1925. Mackay’s wealthy, Catholic father was against the match, presumably because Berlin was Jewish and an immigrant. The press soon began to report the courtship and public attention was captured by the story’s romanticism. The couple eloped and her father subsequently had little contact with the married couple. They remained happily married until Ellin’s death in 1988.
Many of Berlin’s 1,500 songs were hits at the time of release, but several are so instilled in the public consciousness that not many people now remember who wrote them. ‘God Bless America’ was released in 1938 by Kate Smith [contemporary popular singer] when she approached Berlin to write a patriotic number to mark World War I Armistice Day. He dug out a song he had decided not to use in Yip Yip Yaphank 20 years earlier. ‘God Bless America’ is now frequently described as America’s second National Anthem and is sung at sports events and on national holidays. On the afternoon of 9/11, American Senators and Congressmen sang the song on Capitol Hill in Washington. Berlin granted the royalties to the Scout movement and it has since made the organisation millions of dollars. Berlin’s most famous song however is ‘White Christmas’ which he penned for the 1942 film, Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby, who sang the number in the movie, released the song and it remained the best-selling single for the next 50 years. To date 30 million copies have been sold worldwide.
The patriotism the songwriter exhibited in 1917 was again demonstrated when America joined World War II in 1941. This is the Army was a stage show which began on Broadway, toured to US army stations throughout the world and was produced as a film (starring Ronald Regan). For nearly four years Berlin supervised and performed in the production, he never took a salary, and donated the $10 million profits to the Army Emergency Relief Fund. President Truman granted Berlin the Medal of Merit for his dedication.
After the war Berlin began to write book musicals, the first of which was Annie Get Your Gun in 1946 (See Chapter 5). This was followed by Miss Liberty (1949) which failed to match Annie’s success, but Call Me Madam (1950), starring Ethel Merman, was a return to form and ran for 644 performances on Broadway. Berlin subsequently announced his retirement from song writing and spent his senior years administering the rights to his repertoire which he was vehemently protective of. He also maintained an interest in his part-ownership of the Music Box Theatre, regularly calling the venue to check on audience figures well into his 70s. But he struggled with modern sensibilities and was so horrified by Elvis Presley’s recording of ‘White Christmas’ that he forced his staff to call radio stations in an attempt to convince the broadcasters to boycott the song. However, in 1962 he was lured back to Broadway to write the score for Mr President but critics judged it dated and lacking any memorable tunes; the show quickly closed. Disillusioned, Berlin became an eccentric recluse, only leaving his flat at night and conducting his business via the telephone. One winter in the 1970s, a young student decided to pay tribute to the former king of Broadway by standing outside Berlin’s house and singing ‘White Christmas’. The following December he returned with a few friends and, after singing several of Berlin’s songs, the song writer invited them in for a drink. The ritual continued until Berlin’s death, each time with a larger group, but Berlin never again acknowledged their presence.
When Irving Berlin died in 1989, that evening all Broadway theatres dimmed their marquee lights as a mark of respect.
2. THE WORKS OF IRVING BERLIN
Watch Your Step (1914)
Stop! Look! Listen! (1915)
The Century Girl (1916)
Yip! Yip! Yaphank (1918)
Ziegfeld Follies (1919)
Music Box Revue (1921, 1922, 1923, 1924)
The Coconuts (1925)
Face the Music (1932)
As Thousands Cheer (1933)
Louisiana Purchase (1940)
This is the Army (1942)
Annie Get Your Gun (1946)
Miss Liberty (1949)
Call Me Madam (1950)
Mr President (1962)
Puttin’ on the Ritz (1929)
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Top Hat (1935)
Follow the Fleet (1936)
On the Avenue (1937)
Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938)
Second Fiddle (1939)
Holiday Inn (1942)
This is the Army (1943)
Easter Parade (1948)
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Call Me Madam (1953)
There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)
White Christmas (1954)
3. CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM