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Sharpshooter's life set to music in 'Annie Get Your Gun'

By Tom Weber

weber@postbulletin.com

If Annie Oakley was a woman ahead of her time, then her time has finally arrived.

As the central character of the hit musical "Annie Get Your Gun," which will be presented Monday at the Mayo Civic Center auditorium, Annie has received more attention and adulation than ever. And she deserves it, according to Bonnie Estes, who plays Annie in the touring show.

"She spoke her mind and did what she wanted to," Estes said in an interview from a tour stop in Providence, R.I. "I love playing her. She's so spunky. There's that feisty side, and then there's the real girlie, sweet side, too."

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The show, with music by Irving Berlin, tells the story of Annie and her romance with Frank Butler, whom she ousted as the star of Buffalo Bill's traveling "Wild West Show."

Estes said she admires the way Oakley came out of a poor background and built her own career. "She grew up in charge of her family," Estes said. "She went out to shoot birds to earn a living and put food on the table." Eventually, Annie developed into a champion markswoman and national celebrity. But she, like many modern women, struggled with balancing a career and a marriage.

Ironically, Estes, a native of Richmond, Va., said she had never seen "Annie Get Your Gun" before auditioning for the role. "My dad is a pretty big musical theater buff," she said. "He always told me Annie would be a great part for me. I've known the music, and when I saw the audition notice I said, 'Well, let's see if he's right.'"

He was, and Estes now finds herself part of a 45-person touring company that is spending 30 weeks together on the road. "I've toured before, but it was only a three-month tour and we drove around in a van and had to set up our own stage and everything," she said. "So to me, anything upscale from that is a blessing."

The challenge of performing on a different stage every few days keeps the show fresh, Estes said. "Every night, the stage manager says, 'We'll have to cut this or change that.' You have no choice but to make the show new every night."

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