“Anything you complain, I complain better,
I complain night and day better than you.”
That’s my feeble attempt at a lyrical parody of “Anything You Can Do,” one of the string of standards that make Irving Berlin musical “Annie Get Your Gun” a Broadway treasure. (It is on stage at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford through Nov. 26, and again Dec. 28-Jan. 28.)
More on that terrific production in a moment, but first a word from the crazy world out there in which we are trying to live peacefully, if not in harmony.
The parody’s sentiment, sorry to say, mirrors the prevailing state of America’s socio-political tenor. Every group has become a special interest group with a complaint about their treatment by others.
Everybody, regardless of what they may say, plays identity politics. It’s not the exclusive domain of one political party or skin color or ethnicity or income level or profession. If anything, identity politics is the new national pastime. Welcome to America, land of the free and home of the aggrieved.
This week (Sept. 29-30), observant followers of Judaism mark the high holy day of Yom Kippur, our day of atonement. A funny thing, that atonement. It may not exactly be the opposite of aggrieved, but it’s close. To be aggrieved is to blame others for your state. A lot of that going around. To atone is to blame yourself for your sins, and ask for forgiveness. Not a lot of that going around. Atonement also takes a lot more introspection, will power and honesty than acting aggrieved.
We all sin, by biblical standards. A little white lie is a sin. A cuss word is a sin. A crime is a sin. Sins come in all shapes and sizes.
Someone who doesn’t think s/he sins has more to atone for than someone who admits to sinning. Someone who thinks “I have nothing to atone for” is like someone who thinks “I’m never going to die.” That means you’re not alive, but a zombie. Same with atonement. If you don’t accept that you need it, it means you don’t accept you’ve sinned in the first place. Spoiler alert: You’re also a zombie, because you’re also not alive, but just stumbling through a version of life unhinged from reality.
We have a lot of people stumbling these days, exhibiting aberrant behavior that doesn’t qualify as quite human in any civil sense. The humans among us are culpable because we enable the zombies’ journey. We can’t very well call them what they are -- demonstrably deranged -- so let’s romanticize who they are by substituting neutered nomenclature, like “alt-right.” Wrong, zombie-breath! There’s not a damn thing “right” about an “alternate” version of society that feebly tries to justify marginalizing or de-humanizing any group, defined ethnically or otherwise.
The euphemistic alt-righters play the aggrieved card to the point of perversity. Atonement is not part of their vocabulary because it takes too much strength of character to pull off.
Meanwhile, back in the world of escapism, “Annie Get Your Gun” is a fun, old-fashioned musical (1946) with one of the best scores in Broadway history. There’s not a single clunker among them. It’s the fact-based tale of legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley, her romance with marksman Frank Butler, and how they became stars of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
From “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” to “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” to “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” Berlin displays a virtuosity and versatility with both words and music that few songwriters of any era can match.
When Irving Berlin was asked by the original “Annie Oakley,” Ethel Merman (she of the powerhouse lungs) to add a song for a 1966 revival, at Lincoln Center, he faced the daunting task of having to compete with his own score, notable for its embarrassment of riches, one hummable tune after another, like its own hit parade.
In response to Ms. Merman, Mr. Berlin only managed to come up with “Old-Fashioned Wedding,” which stopped the revival cold every performance, with cheers from the audience prompting encores for the song in the middle of the show.
When I met the new production’s Annie Oakley, Devon Perry, at Westchester Broadway Theatre’s opening night reception, I told her I saw Merman in the 1966 revival. Ms. Perry’s eyes widened, saying, “Merman is always in my head.” I told her, “Don’t worry. You more than hold your own.”
Does she ever. The buzz at the reception was all about Devon Perry’s terrific singing voice, magnetic stage presence and overall charm. She’s the star who steals the show as sure as shootin’, and as sure as Annie steals Frank Butler’s heart.
Another person who was cited as a star of this “Annie” is director-choreographer Richard Stafford, who keeps the show light on its fee and moving at a very entertaining and satisfying pace. That high praise comes from a friend I spoke with at opening night, who happens to be a notable local director of Broadway musicals himself, Barry Liebman, managing producer of Yorktown Stage in Yorktown Heights.
But no matter who is in any production of this show, or where it is staged, the star that always shines brightest is the score by musical magician Irving Berlin.
That brings us back to our theme of atonement, as Yom Kippur is upon us.
Unless the anti-Semites/self-deluded patriots who animate the alt-right are ready to atone for their sins, they may be well advised to stop enjoying American anthems like “God Bless America.”
I hate to ruin their hate-fest, but that all-American anthem is the work of a Russian Jew, with the birth name of Israel Beilin, who emigrated to the United States in 1893 at age 5. As Irving Berlin, the diminutive Semite of surpassing artistic genius also wrote “Easter Parade” and “White Christmas.” Hey, alt-righters, don’t you just hate it when that happens?
“Annie Get Your Gun” runs at Westchester Broadway Theatre through Nov. 26, and Dec. 28-Jan. 28. For ticket information, call (914) 592-2222; BroadwayTheatre.com.
Bruce Apar of APAR PR provides “Publicity With Personality” for local businesses, organizations, and events. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at email@example.com or (914) 275-6887