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Pistol Packin' Mama

Reba McEntire fires up Broadway

Story by Bob Cannon

Reba McEntire takes a rare moment to relax inside New York City's Marquis Theatre, where she is preparing for her Broadway debut as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. Nashville's durable redhead has been hard at work here for the last month, making sure everything will be just right when the curtain rises Jan. 26, in just a few days.

Yet another rehearsal will begin in just a few minutes. "It's a long show and I'm in a lot of the scenes, so I sure do need it," she chuckles. "There's a lot of choreography and dialogue."

Luckily, Reba had a head start on learning her role, having long been an admirer of Annie Oakley - she even played the legendary rodeo performer and markswoman in the 1995 TV movie Buffalo Girls. "It's really easy for me, because I've been a huge fan of hers for a long time," explains Reba. "And she's such a lovable character."

As her fans know, Reba is pretty lovable herself - and that's not all the two have in common. "Both of us are spunky and feisty," Reba says. "We're both women who grew up in a man's world - she had to take care of her family after her father left, and I grew up working on a cattle ranch, doing the outside man's work and the inside woman's work. Plus, we're both very competitive, and we love what we do. We're so much alike that I just become Annie."

Reba has been waiting for the opportunity to become Annie for a while now. "The producers tried to get me to do it a couple years ago," explains Reba, "but I already had my tour set up, and I told them I wasn't interested. Then last summer we went to see it, and I said, 'Oh my gosh, I've got to do this play.' It's a great love story with the greatest songs - it's funny, it's serious, it's sad.

"Then they just kept calling, and I told them, 'I still have my own tour, but I can do it in January 2001.' "

There was little doubt that when the moment came, Reba would be up to the job. She may never have done Broadway before, but she's no stranger to acting, having appeared in 10 films and dozens of videos. It should be no surprise, then, that her fellow cast members welcomed her as one of their own. "The other actors are wonderful," she says. "They've bent over backwards for me."

And her Broadway stint isn't the only new acting foray on Reba's schedule - she can soon be seen playing a psychiatrist in the movie One Night At McCool's, and has also signed on to star in Sally, a WB Network sitcom planned for this fall.

Still, Reba is far from abandoning her singing career. She already has a summer tour planned, and this year she'll release Greatest Hits Volume 3, a collection of her most recent smashes along with a couple of new songs.

For the moment, though, it's time for Reba to return to rehearsal. As the big night approaches, she is ready and raring to go. "I'm not nervous at all," she promises.

All the work pays off on opening night, when Reba's entrance draws thunderous applause. While her husband, son and parents watch from the audience, she proves she's right at home on the Broadway stage.

As the audience screams for her during the curtain call, Reba can't help but burst into tears of joy. As a topper, her dad rushes the stage to present her with a bouquet of yellow roses.

"What an opportunity - to perform on Broadway!" she gushes after the show. "You just have to go with the things that life presents to you."