No other heroine of children’s stories will match the spunky freckle-faced red-headed Anne Shirley of Green Gables as is proven once again in the 2012 production of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical. Her shoes are big ones to walk in, but that didn’t seem to bother Tess Benger, who hollered it out for the second year in a row with her best dramatic flair captivating the audience from the first moment she appeared on the stage until the final bow at the curtain call. She was well-matched by Justin Stadnyk, in his second year as well as Gilbert Blythe, although his voice seemed a tad bit hoarse in the second week of performances. New to the cast and certainly well-added attractions are veterans Marlane O’Brien as Marilla Cuthbert and Tim Koetting as Matthew Cuthbert. Add to that a solid cast of strong singers, actors and dancers and an excellent live orchestra and you have the perfect mix for this ever-popular long-running musical that is as much an institution on PEI as red lobsters.
The audience was greeted by soft nature sound effects with pealing church bells in the distance, a leafy gel-shadow canopy on the stage and, instead of the traditional masking for the wings, stylized floating legs that served as extensions to the multimedia backdrop that added to the realism yet pushed the boundaries of creativity by providing changing and animated scenery. The realism was just so good that there was even a scene-stealing mouse scampering around on the stage while Anne and Marilla bewailed her green hair in the upstairs bedroom set in the second act. Oops. Was the mouse not supposed to be there?
As if foreboding a technical disaster, the voice-over recording greeting the audience at the start of the play had a bad glitch and stopped at the same spot twice over—to the amusement of the audience, eliciting much laughter—before finally playing smoothly through—which then elicited applause. At least the audience, you knew, would be appreciative. The second glitch in the sound system was when someone’s mike rustled loudly in the first classroom scene. Finally, the mikes just squealed their feedback and up and died in the second act for a part of some dialogue. Other than that problem, everything else technical was superb. The sets, which were a mixture of old and new, were changed with amazing efficiency and speed so that there were barely any breaks in between scenes or even during some scene changes, which went on with the singing and dancing.
The other new aspect of the production that definitely made it more lively and more entertaining was the refreshing choreography, which challenged the performers much more. There was just so much exuberance in the chorus numbers that the whole musical seemed completely new. I’m pretty sure even the way the songs were performed was updated, because the whole play seemed more jaunty and upbeat than I last remember it. Or maybe it was just Anne of Green Gables meets 21st century stage technology. Either way, it was a smashingly good way to start the week and it will most certainly be a crowd-drawer and a crowd-pleaser this summer.
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