A review of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical opening night performance, June 30, 2016, at the Homburg Theatre, Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown
By Cindy Lapeña
It’s Anne with an E who’d rather be called Cordelia, if she could. Yes, Anne Shirley and the longest running signature PEI musical Anne of Green Gables: The Musical is back for the summer with a brand-new cast, brand new choreography, spruced-up sets, and brand new visual effects. Even the music has been spiced up and sounded brighter, livelier, with jazzy innuendos best revealed in the new teacher Ms. Stacey’s (Josée Boudreau) inspiring rendition of “Open the Window”. Certainly, the addition of technology—from can-phones to the newfangled wall-mounted telephone brightened up the gossip song “Did You Hear?” The use of a few more hand props enhanced the dance numbers as well.
What is not to like about the musical? This year’s musical arrangement directed by Bob Foster has the play sounding and feeling more Broadway-ish, matched by accomplished choreography by Robin Calvert. Even the ensemble seemed more exuberant and the cast displayed high levels of energy that poured out in everything they did on stage, from twirling umbrellas to cartwheels, hurdles, skipping rope, and step-dancing. The ensemble playing students were nimble, highly skilled, and just bubbling with smiles, projecting their energy throughout the Homburg Theatre. Maybe it’s also because I was sitting so much closer to the stage than usual, but there’s no denying all that energy spilling off the stage and into the audience, not to mention pacing at a clip that made the scenes fly by and seem over too soon.
I remember a few years ago, I happily reported the updates made to the production with the addition of video backdrops and improvement of sets. I’m happy to report another update to the sets—my favourite being the intricate scroll-work design on the second floor of Green Gables and the opening scrim with a projected book and Marlane O’Brien’s grand entrance as Mrs. Lynde. (I’m not saying what she does with the book, but it’s really cool and you have to see it for yourself!) I’d become used to seeing Marlane as Marilla, seeing her play Mrs. Lynde is completely refreshing. Hank Stinson seemed just perfect for the role of a more playful, boyish but fragile Matthew Cuthbert. I must say I really liked Katie Kerr as Diana Barry, much more than I like her as Sophie in Mamma Mia! Her voice and tipsy giggly girlishness seem made just for the character of Diana Barry. This year’s gems are first-timer homegrown talents Aaron Hastelow as Gilbert Blythe and Jessica Gallant as Anne Shirley. Hands down, she is the best Anne I have seen, since I saw it for the very first time in 2007. Kudos to director Wade Lynch for imbuing a new vitality into this 52-year-old musical and topping an already gargantuan reputation; artistic director Adam Brazier for breathing new life into the Centre and leading it in new, exciting directions; and the entire cast and crew for this exceptional production.
You all know I don’t normally rave about a performance, but I am raving over this one. Besides the performance itself, I must mention the inclusion of a song-and-cast list, something I have mentioned several times in the past and something I have wanted to see in the program. I hope it’s a practice the Centre will continue because I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to know the song titles and who perform them. It adds to the memorability of the music. There was just one little thing I was disappointed with. Lines of sight were not checked when the school concert scene was blocked. Because I had the misfortune of being in a seat in the far right section of the audience, the whole “Fathers of the Confederation” tableau was cut from view. I know for certain I’m not the only one who had to invoke an imagination akin to Anne’s to picture that tableau and I do hope they move that scene closer to centre right so every member of the audience can appreciate the full scene. With that exception, everything about the show, from the deliciously topped cupcakes with Anne’s picture on lollipop sticks to set the audience in a good mood before the show to the sober but tender reprises of “The Words” (Marilla) and “Wond’rin’” (Anne and Gilbert), has set the perfect tone for the long Canada Day weekend as well as the rest of the summer!
*This review can also be seen on ONRPEI.ca