Anne & Gilbert
Review by Mille Clarkes
Praise and only praise, can be heaped upon this year’s production of Anne & Gilbert. There is no way around it. Everything was good. More than good, this musical was a well-crafted masterpiece with just enough modesty to allow one to forget the mastery. Large men in the audience boomed with laughter and slapped their knees, small women wept. Large men wept. Anne & Gilbert had its audience so deeply enthralled that most folks forgot themselves for a full two and a half hours, except perhaps to wipe a tear rolling down their cheek, or beam at their friend with an appreciative grin.
Where to begin? The backbone of any musical must be of course, the music and lyrics. Co-composers Nancy White and Bob Johnston, drew from Jeff Hochhauser’s book, bringing forth the essential story structure and dialogue, while weaving around it an original musical score. The clever lyrics dropped effortlessly into place, aided by superbly controlled arrangements, which never fell prey to sentimentality. Though a singing, dancing, romance, Anne & Gilbert was surprisingly palatable. A good lick of humour was evenly and deftly applied throughout.
There was not one actor out of place in the considerably large cast. Not one who didn’t seem to shine in their own strengths, yet function as a part of the whole. Rebecca Parent was superbly cast, and gracefully acted as the fulcrum around which the rest of the ensemble swung. She portrayed just the right mixture of wisdom and innocence, which is the junction of qualities that has won the character of Anne Shirley a place in the hearts of countless many around the globe. Rebecca was able to project and dramatize with the best of them, yet she reserved a placid inwardness which drew the audience into a sense of kinship and intimacy. Aaron Kyte as Gilbert Blythe was notably light on his feet and sang beautifully. He was likable to a fault, and no one would have doubted his claim to be the most sought-after young man on Prince Edward Island. A bit of a show stealer was the jubilant countenance of Sarah Sheps as Diana Barry. Her beaming, good-natured, slightly mischievous, counter-balance to Anne’s proud idealism swept across the stage like a breathe of fresh air. The supporting cast, which unfortunately are too many to name, all seemed to inhabit their bodies and the space around them with a fluidity that drove the spectacle on with an engaging rhythm from curtain up to curtain down. They made the dance numbers look easy and even the set changes between acts were almost engrossing. Each cast member wove seamlessly around each other and about the stage—leaving no awkward dead space. There was fiddling, there were back flips, there were victorian-style formal dances—this show had it all and no one in the cast fell short of the challenge.
It would be remiss not to mention some of the perhaps less glamourous, but certainly essential elements of this production. The cast could not have come together as such an organic whole using up every inch of the stage, without the remarkable choreography of Heidi Ford. Timothy French’s direction wasted not a moment or a movement—he molded his material to a tight and succinct form. The costumes by Phillip Clarkson were spun from a subtle yet rich colour palette, with a fine smattering of detail. The set by John Craig Dinning was intelligently engineered, using minimal props and decoration, yet just enough to suggest the scope of the world being portrayed. The lighting design must have been good, for it went almost unnoticed and did what lighting is supposed to do; created mood and arranged space. Lastly, the musicians in the pit, directed by Jacqueline Sorenson, played harmoniously. Jacqueline must be applauded also for her overall musical direction, as the production maintained a consistent level of professionalism, while not coming across too slickly.
As this is a critical review, I must offer one line of criticism; I only wish it hadn’t ended so soon.