Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is one of those stories I regret missing out on as a child. With that said, getting a chance to witness these marvelous characters invigorate the stage in Donald Harron’s musical adaptation (produced by Joseph Patrick and Maurice Galpern) really made me feel as though I was engaging with an interactive storybook.
This twentieth century Canadian classic in children’s literature tells the touching tale of Anne Shirley (Jayne Peters), a spirited and initially rambunctious teenager, adopted by siblings Matthew (David Cairns) and Marilla Cuthbert (Lada Darewych) who think she is a boy who could help them work their farmland in Charlottetown. Despite their initial disappointment and her odd behavior, they, along with everyone else in town, eventually grow incredibly fond of Anne, for she is a ray of sunshine that warms the hearts of all.
This is especially made true through Peters’ performance. Peters does a great job humanizing and giving Anne quite a poetic sense of dignity and wit, all while still allowing her to be whimsy and adventurous. When Anne makes mistakes or acts on impulse, she may frustrate us, but her honesty and willingness to make things right gain our empathy.
The relationships she develops with other characters are captivating as well. We see how genuinely supportive and loving she and Diana Barry (Samantha Marineau) are towards each other, and they allow absolutely nothing to tear apart their wonderful friendship.
The blossoming romantic friendship between Anne and Gilbert Blythe (Bryden Rutherford) is both sweet and amusing, because they are constantly teasing each other throughout the show, struggling to come to terms with their feelings the entire time. Although I will say that Rutherford’s Gilbert shows his gentle side more often, and it’s rather adorable. Their relationship’s pacing could’ve been a little better, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.
Cairns and Justine Grimes as Miss Stacy deliver my favorite performances. Matthew is the epitome of a father figure. With Anne in his life, he is the happiest he’d ever been in years, and he always strives to do whatever he can for her. He greatly sympathizes with her, but makes sure to correct her errors in the kindest and encouraging of ways. Miss Stacy’s character is exceptional at reinforcing a hint of progressiveness in the narrative, by bringing out the best in her pupils and instilling wonder in their minds.
Norman Campbell’s musical numbers effectively express the characters’ exact emotions towards one another and any given situation in song, as opposed to leaving it all to exposition in the dialogue. The female performers’ vocals generally sound operatic and lovely, while the males tend to sound more raw though melodic all the same. The musical has plenty of fun songs too, with my personal favorite being “Ice Cream.” There are times where the sound (designed by Curtis Whitaker) is a little loud, but for the most part, it blends in well with the vocals.
Adam Sergison’s choreography is top notch. I have yet to see a myriad of foxtrots, pirouettes, and Charlestons, among other dance moves, demonstrate the same amount of fluidity, energy and creativity (the egg-and-spoon race being the perfect example) as shown here.
Another strong feature of the show is evident in Michael Galloro’s set design. Immense detail was clearly put into locations such as the Cuthberts' home and the schoolhouse. I found the idea of having Matthew climb through Anne’s window from upstage to be a nice touch. Jackie McClelland’s painting of the outdoors is absolutely breathtaking.
Robyn Macdonald’s costumes (especially the beautiful pink dress Monica Szustakowski wears as Mrs. Pye) and Jordan Silva’s wigs nicely capture the story’s setting and time period, ranging from rural attire to noble wear.
The show doesn’t feel its intended long length, but I do think that a couple scenes could’ve been shortened or cut altogether in spite of that. One instance when Anne accidently gets Diana drunk with wine at her tea party feels out of place to me, and serves mostly as filler within the context of the scenes chosen for this musical.
Nevertheless, I doubt that fans and newcomers will find it distracting from the otherwise uplifting and exhilarating performances by this incredibly talented cast.
Directed by Alan Kinsella, Anne of Green Gables is playing until May 22 at the Lower Ossington Theatre. For more information, visit http://lowerossingtontheatre.com/.
Cast: Jayne Peters, Rae Bernakevitch, David Cairns, Lada Darewych, Emma Ferrante, Paige Foskett, Justine Grimes, Samantha Marineau, Alexandra Reed, Bryden Rutherford, Monica Szustakowski, Thomas James Finn, Céline Gunton, Seanna Kennedy, Jeri Leader, Simon Lee, Travis Paul, Jada Rifkin and Allison Withers