BY CARY GINELL
When Annie Get Your Gun makes its debut at the High Street Arts Center September 11, the little lady totin’ the rifle will be a familiar face to Ventura County audiences. In 2008, Alison Rosenblum, then Alison Friedman, played the part in the Conejo Players’ production of the show. Now, seven years later, she is married with a four-and-a-half-month old son, and is dusting off her chaps to perform in the classic Irving Berlin musical once again.
Rosenblum grew up in the Conejo Valley, where she went to Newbury Park High School before leaving to major in theater at Cal State Fullerton. Upon graduating, she went to New York, but returned while on hiatus to appear in the Conejo Players show. She has since returned to California and currently works as an elementary school teacher at Valley School in Van Nuys, where she continues to teach theater in summer and after-school programs. After all these years, Alison is excited to tread the boards once again in one of her favorite roles.
VCOS: Now that you’ve had seven years to think about it, how is it going coming back to play Annie Oakley?
ALISON: I love it. It’s amazing how much of it I remember. I’m studying my lines and I’m going, “Oh, yeah, I know this one.” I thought that after seven years, I wouldn’t remember it. But it’s the greatest role. I love it so much.
VCOS: How do you compare that with other roles you’ve played?
ALISON: Well, it’s certainly bigger (laughs). It’s rare where you find a show that you find a not-ingenuey, belting lead. Normally, I play secondary parts.
VCOS: As I recall, your performance when you did Annie Get Your Gun seven years was very un-Mermanlike.
ALISON: Yes. That was directed to be so. I’m a huge Merman fan, but yes, I was directed to try to find the naiveté and the sweetness.
VCOS: So is that going to be the situation this time, too?
ALISON: To a degree. I feel like this time I get to build upon last time’s performance, because that one is still ingrained in me. But now I get to find all the little nuances and be a little bit different.
VCOS: How do you do that?
ALISON: I feel like there are times in the show where I am giving the same ultimate performance. But no two shows are the same. The same choices are being made and so forth, but there are times when I’m feeling like I am giving her a little bit more toughness. Because I’ve done it before and I know the script so well, I can find where the vulnerability hits, what things Frank says that really kill her. So because I have the familiarity, I’m able to find those little things in this performance.
VCOS: Is it in your reactions?
ALISON: Little bits and pieces, yes. Some of them are reactions. Like I remember scenes, the last time I did it, where I knew that by the end of the scene I was going to be angry and we lived the scene as we did it, but didn’t exactly know the point. The Frank Butler in this show is really cool, by the way. Now I know the point. He gives me the line and I go, “OK, that got me. Thank you.” So it gets you to the place where you have those nuances and the clarity that I’m able to bring to this performance.
VCOS: Thinking self-critically now, how will you able to better yourself this time?
ALISON: Having the experience from before, it took all the rehearsals to get to that point, now I feel that I can build upon that. And I’m older now. I’m a mother now.
VCOS: Does that make a difference?
ALISON: Oh, it does to me. It’s amazing, the vulnerability you feel just as a human that you are able to tap into once you have a child. To me, that’s huge. I’m crying right now (laughs). So the vulnerability feels more raw and real. From an acting standpoint, my voice is different now. Singing-wise, I feel I’m stronger in the mix and less strong in other places. But it still fits the role. I guess that just comes with age.
VCOS: I wanted to ask you about Irving Berlin. How is he as a singer’s composer?
ALISON: Oh, I just love him. I’ve always felt that my voice always fit in better with older sounding music. The newer stuff, I’ve never done as well with. I love Rodgers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, those guys.
VCOS: Is the range different?
ALISON: I feel like the letting-loose-Broadway-belt is a thing of the past. Nowadays it’s the Rock ‘n’ Roll Belt or the Very Clean Belt. You know what I mean? I feel like the Ethel Merman, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand letting-it-rip was a thing from before. I’m not saying I’m on their level, but that’s what I try to go for. But you don’t get better than Irving Berlin. Every song is, “Oh, I love that song!” This show is so good.
VCOS: What other shows have you done?
ALISON: In between the Annie Get Your Guns, I lived in New York and performed professionally on tours and Off-Off-Broadway. I did a lot of stuff that nobody’s ever heard of. News and Review was really fun. I did I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, I did The Water Coolers. I did a children’s version of The Wizard of Oz – the national tour that went to schools. But I’ve done almost every Rodgers and Hammerstein show there is. Cinderella, Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma! I’ve never done Carousel. But that tends to be more my vibe.
VCOS: Do you like teaching?
ALISON: I love it. It’s like acting, except you have a guaranteed audience, five times a week. (laughs) They have to listen to me! But I get to perform every day, and the more passionate I am about the performance of teaching, the more into it the kids are. So I think I found how to get a guaranteed paycheck but still perform every day. I’ve taught first grade and fourth grade, but now I’m teaching third grade. I teach the normal third grade curriculum but then do the after-school theater program.
VCOS: Any dream roles that you still have not gotten to do yet?
ALISON: I know I’ve got some years to go yet, but I’ve always wanted to play Mama Rose. Still too young, though. But that’s a great question. I’ve always wanted to play Nancy in Oliver! For a long time, Annie Oakley was one of them. But I’ve gotten to play a lot of roles I’ve wanted to.
VCOS: Ever venture into Sondheim territory?
ALISON: I’ve wanted to! I’ve never done a Sondheim show. Into the Woods I’d love to do. And especially with my husband, Michael Rosenblum. He’s a performer as well but is mostly a voiceover actor. We met in New York. He did some show called Popesicle in L.A., but otherwise he hasn’t done much theatre.
VCOS: Who are your idols?
ALISON: Oh, Ethel Merman. I was loud as a kid and my mom said, “You sound like Ethel Merman,” so I went and studied her and said, “Oo, I like her!” Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, those old-school belters. That’s who I always wished I could be.
VCOS: Annie Get Your Gun hasn’t been seen here since you did it seven years ago. Any speculation as to why?
ALISON: They did it at Cabrillo a few years before I did it at Conejo Players and Katherine McPhee played Annie. But I think because it’s such a beast of a show. As we rehearse every night, we think we’re there, but it’s just so huge that doing it justice takes so much work. So I don’t know. It’s a big, three-hour show and there’s a lot of ensemble dancing and singing, and it’s extravagant, so that would be my guess.
VCOS: Could it be because of the stereotypes of Native Americans?
ALISON: Interesting. Well, in the revival they cut the song “I’m an Indian, Too.” And rightfully so. But I feel that they don’t touch on that very much in this version, and did that to be safe.
VCOS: Who’s playing Frank Butler?
ALISON: James Cluster, which is funny because he’s the husband of the girl who played Winnie Tate last time. And John Gaston, who was my Frank Butler, is now music directing. And the kid that played Little Jake seven years ago is now playing Tommy. It’s funny to see a lot of the same faces.
Annie Get Your Gun plays at the High Street Arts Center in Moorpark beginning September 11. See the VC On Stage Calendar for dates and show times. Dine before the show at The Secret Garden and get two dinners for the price of one if you mention VC On Stage.