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Cast, crew come together for show

May 29, 2003|BY KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Eight days before the Friday, May 30, opening night, a few men are cutting vinyl siding, creating the "premier hotel" for the set of the Apollo Civic Theatre production of "Annie Get Your Gun."

The noise of the power saw and hammers drives the cast to an upstairs room for rehearsal. The crew has yet to begin building a planned 16-foot train car.

"It's a major undertaking," says Bob Fuegi, a member of the construction crew and an Apollo board member.

Fuegi laughs in response to the suggestion that he's making "big bucks" at the Apollo.

Like most of the members of the ensemble, Fuegi is a volunteer. Sometimes it's difficult to gather all cast members for rehearsals. Actors, stage crew and musicians work different jobs with different schedules. The kids in the cast have school.

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"That's community theater," Sharon Hutchcraf, the play's director says.

Judy Pharr, who has been a church choir director and teaches piano and voice lessons, is musical director for "Annie Get Your Gun." She accepts the challenges of struggling to find musicians - flute, piano, trumpet, drums and violin - instead of the 20-piece orchestra she'd like to have in the pit.

"You have to be flexible," she says. You just have to keep working around the realities of community theater.

There are so many beautiful songs in "Annie Get Your Gun," Pharr says. "I love the music."

She has a photo of her mother, in costume, singing one of the show's tunes, "You Can't Get a Man With A Gun," for a variety show years ago in Zanesville, Ohio.

Laura Speis, 21, who portrays Annie Oakley, is one of Pharr's former students.

Daniel Speis, 24, has been Laura's real-life husband since August. He plays Frank Butler, the sharpshooting star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

The show, originally written for Ethel Merman in 1946, is loosely based on fact. Annie Oakley was indeed a sharpshooter who outshot Butler in a competition when she was 15. They later married.

Laura and Dan Speis had seen each other perform but never had done a show together. Playing the roles of Annie and Frank is an interesting experience for the young couple. Their duets include a song about falling in love - "They Say It's Wonderful" - as well as the competitive "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)."

"It's so funny how true they are," Dan Speis says.

"It doesn't require a whole lot of acting (for us)," agrees Laura Speis.

Nine-year-old Maura Reiff portrays Minnie, one of Annie's little sisters.

She's done one other play at the Apollo and had roles in Musselman High School's "Wizard of Oz." Minnie is her first role with lines, though.

Maura, who has taken ballet lessons for six years, and tap and jazz classes for five years, says she is enjoying the show. "I just like to get experience so when I'm older I can work on the Broadway stage in New York," she says.

Mike Fellers has no such aspirations. "Annie Get Your Gun" is his first stage venture. He accompanied a friend to auditions and was asked to try out. He landed the role of Buffalo Bill and sings the show's signature "There's No Business Like Show Business."

"Live theater is so fantastic," says Viola Johnson, who portrays one of the Native Americans.

She called her brother in New Jersey to tell him she'd be performing at the Apollo.

"In Harlem?" he asked.

"No, in Martinsburg," she answered.

It may not be the big time, but she loves the community theater part of show business.

Laura Speis says she grew up on the Apollo stage. Contrary to appearances - the set incomplete, costumes not quite finished - the show will go on.

"It's the miracle on Martin Street," she says.

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