Crystal Bernard knows Annie Oakley

'Wings' star is coming to Huntsville with Broadway musical

Crystal Bernard photo

From: Huntsville Times 4/22/2001
By: Howard Miller

Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Debbie Reynolds and Lucie Arnaz.

Many are the stars who have played the title role in ''Annie Get Your Gun,'' since this popular Broadway musical based on the historic figure Annie Oakley premiered in 1946.

One might think that stellar lineup would intimidate anyone stepping into the part today, but Crystal Bernard, who will star in the BellSouth Broadway Series presentation of the show in Huntsville next weekend, is primed for the chance do her interpretation.

Speaking from her home in Beverly Hills recently, Bernard said she knows she has some big boots to fill: most recently, those of country star Reba McEntire, who's drawn rave reviews for her portrayal on Broadway.

''I'm so thrilled to be in this show, but I'll not be Reba. I can't be,'' Bernard said. ''I went backstage and just kissed her feet.''

''It is written as Annie being sort of a backwoods cabin kind of gal. We girls from the South know how to say those words. I know that girl. I know Annie,'' Bernard said.

After the current tour, Bernard will replace McEntire in the Broadway production for the summer.

Co-starring in the touring show is Rex Smith, who hosted ''Solid Gold'' and starred in ''Street Hawk'' on TV. He won the Theater World Award for his portrayal of Frederick in ''The Pirates of Penzance'' on Broadway. He will also be starring later in the national tour of ''Kiss Me Kate.''

''Annie Get Your Gun'' has a score by Irving Berlin and includes such standards as ''There's No Business Like Show Business,'' ''Doin' What Comes Natur'lly'' and ''Anything You Can Do.''

Bernard was born in Garland, Texas, but was raised mostly in Spring, a small town near Houston. She began in music at age 3, and traveled across the United States for much of her youth in a gospel group with her father, evangelist Jerry Wayne Bernard, and her sisters.

During that time the Bernards, as the group was conveniently named, recorded 12 gospel albums.

When Bernard was 14, she was singing in Mississippi when she was heard by singer Bobbie Gentry, who asked her to join her Las Vegas show. Her parents gave her permission and she did. Later, Bernard got into TV acting.

''I got a job on 'Happy Days' during its 11th season,'' Bernard said. Her character was K.C. Cunningham, who was the niece of Mr. Cunningham, the father of the TV family.

However, it was Bernard's role as Helen Chappel on the popular comedy series ''Wings'' for which she is probably best known. Bernard's feisty character ran the lunch counter at the small airfield on Nantucket Island that was the show's setting. Bernard's proud of that period of her career.

''They had very good writers. They really kept the quality up,'' she said.

Notable songwriter

During her short time on ''Happy Days'' and through the ''Wings'' years, Bernard kept working on her songwriting and she's enjoyed a notable degree of success in that craft.

''That's a weird situation. I've always written music and a lot of artists recorded my music: the Wynans, Lisa Stansfield, Paula Abdul,'' Bernard said.

She got a major break in her recording career via a duet with Peter Cetera on a song called ''(I Wanna Take) Forever Tonight.'' It went high on the charts.

''Somehow a tape of mine got to Peter Cetera and he wanted to know who was singing on it,'' she recalled. That led to the duet.

''I recorded a pop record about a year and a half ago and the record company went under, so nobody has really heard anything from me lately,'' she said.

Looking beyond this play's Broadway run, Bernard hopes to see more recording in her future.

''I'm going to find a record company. I like DreamWorks,'' she said.

She said that Broadway is ''bigger, louder, faster and funnier'' than the other work she is familiar with.

To keep up her stamina for the demands of musical theater, Bernard leads an active lifestyle.

''I'm a dancer and I run, too,'' she said.

But on the matter of diet, Bernard confesses her meals don't follow the usual ''healthy eater'' routine, though her favorite meat isn't surprising for a native Texan.

''I eat more beef than anything else,'' she said. ''I love fish, too. I'd rather eat at home than in restaurants.''

She also loves to chow down at the cinema.

''I don't go to the movies without getting nachos, a big tub of popcorn and a diet Coke,'' Bernard said.

She's single and is an enthusiastic fan of car racing and the Lakers.

As Bernard speaks, barking in the background is Cody, her mixed Golden Retriever and Australian Shepherd.

''He's a great big puppy - about as big as I am,'' she said.