Mary Martin and Ethel Merman ranked as the two most important female performers in the Broadway theater from the 1930s to the 1960s. But they almost never played the same part. The exception is the role of Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. Merman originated the part on Broadway in 1946; Martin headed the national tour that began in 1947. The two had completely different styles, and they approached the role completely differently. Merman was brassy and matter-of-fact. Possessed of a clarion voice, she made each of her characterizations oversized and overpowering. Martin always seemed as much a soubrette as a leading lady, using her warm, intimate voice with its rounded tones to achieve a kittenish, lightly comic tone. Accordingly, Merman's Annie Oakley emphasized the character's blunt, competitive side, which made it so hard for her to win the love of Frank Butler. Martin's Annie had a more subtle appeal. Employing more than usual of her native Texas twang, Martin gave a good-humored performance that brought out the character's conflict between independence and romantic longing.
Merman's portrayal was immortalized on the original Broadway cast album in 1946, but it took until 1957 for Martin to get her version on record. Ten years after she had toured the country in the show, Martin was engaged to record an album, perform in a West Coast tour, and do a live television broadcast, in that order. Her co-star was John Raitt, another Broadway veteran who had played Frank Butler in summer stock. Their album, recorded on September 16, 1957, might as well be billed as a duo album rather than as a TV soundtrack, since it features only the two leads, backed by a chorus and orchestra. Songs written for secondary players have been eliminated so that, for example, "Who Do You Love, I Hope?," one of the show's hits, is missing. But both Martin and Raitt, who has a strong, clear tenor, are marvelous, and they are also marvelous together on "They Say It's Wonderful," "Anything You Can Do," and "There's No Business Like Show Business." This may not be a true soundtrack/cast album, but it chronicles one of the two major interpretations of the part of Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, and for that it is an important part of musical theater history. [The 1993 CD reissue mistakenly states on the spine, the back cover, and the CD itself that the album is the "1957 NBC live recording." In fact, the LP was in record stores weeks before the television broadcast.] ~ William Ruhlmann