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2019 Island Fringe Festival

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Genuine Feel Good

Anne & Gilbert

Review by Gillian Carr

Playing for its third year at Summerside’s Harbourfront Theatre, Anne & Gilbert is a show filled to the brim with energy and charm, guaranteed to melt even the most cynical and Anne-weary heart.

Based on L.M. Montgomery’s sequels Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island, the show follows Anne Shirley’s journey through life as a school teacher, and later on as a Redmond college girl, all the while avoiding the attentions of a certain Mr. Blythe.

Rebecca Parent and Aaron Kyte, both in their second year playing the roles of Anne and Gilbert, have a comfortable chemistry that easily demonstrates how friendship between the two blossoms into romance. With his confidence and charisma, it’s not hard to believe that Gilbert (Kyte) is the most eligible bachelor on the Island and Parent’s Anne matches him every step of the way with the same independent, stubborn, free-spiritedness familiar to those who know her story.

The songs in Anne & Gilbert are infectiously catchy, and audience members would be hard-pressed not to find themselves tapping their feet during songs like “You’re Island Through and Through” and “Seesaw Girl.” The quiet songs are filled with heart and wistfulness, showcasing the vocal talents of the cast which are highlighted in “When He Was My Beau,” “Someone Handed Me the Moon” and “All You Can Do Is Wait.” Island humour also makes appearance during “You’re Never Safe from Surprises ‘Til You’re Dead.”

Only occasionally did the acting go over the top, and the choreography seem a little forced, such as during the song “A Jonah Day,” which was supposed to be dramatic and farcical, but didn’t quite work for me.

However, one aspect of the play that I particularly enjoyed was the strong friendships shown between two generations of women—Marilla (Martha Irving) and Rachel Lynde (Robin Craig) and Anne (Rebecca Parent) and Diana (Meghan Hoople) , as demonstrated in the songs “Our Duty” and “Polishing Silver.”

The main players are surrounded by a strong supporting cast, which includes such stand-outs as Natalie Sullivan, playing the scheming Josie Pye, Meghan Hoople, playing Diana Barry and Nathan Keoughan, as Anne’s would-be beau Roy Gardner.

A new addition to this year’s production is the Young Company cast. Young local Island actors add their dance and singing skills to the Avonlea and schoolhouse scenes and their enthusiasm and hard work spill out to the audience, making them a joy to watch on stage.

The message of Anne & Gilbert isn’t subtle in any sense of the word—indeed, it even has its own theme song: “Gilbert Loves Anne of Green Gables”—but if the audience’s standing ovation at the end of the show, and my own satisfaction at seeing Anne finally get her happy ending, is any indication, it’s a genuine feel-good story. You won’t regret seeing it this summer.

The Anne Opening

Opening night of Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™

Review by Gillian Carr

The beginning of Anne of Green Gables—The Musical’s 44th season was marked with a gala opening night on Saturday, June 14 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.

Outside, Anne greeted the theatre-goers with a cheery smile as they went down the steps into the theatre. The foyer was crowded and buzzing as people gathered in groups before going in to find their seats. The variety of faces – families with young children, Japanese and Quebec visitors to the Island, women in long fancy, men in suits and teenagers in jeans—demonstrated the wide appeal of Anne.

In attendance among the crowd were twelve members of the Charlottetown Police Service, who served as the honour guard for the dignitaries attending the opening, which included the Right Honourable Barbara Hagarman, Lieutenant Governor of PEI.

To begin the evening a brief speech was made by Anne Allan, the Artistic Director of the Charlottetown Festival, as she welcomed everyone attending this opening night. The stage was then turned over to Gracie Finley, who played Anne during the early days of the musical. To date, Finley remains the only Islander to have played the title role in Anne.

Finley spoke of nostalgia and on the beginning years of the show. She also paid honour to the memory of Elizabeth Mawson, a long-time member of the Charlottetown Festival who played the role of Marilla for 30 years. Mawson passed away earlier this year.

Following these remarks, the show began. New this year was an opening monologue by ‘Lucy Maud Montgomery,’ who explained how Anne came to be, and the important role she played in Montgomery’s life. A patron who has attended the show a number of times said afterwards she thought it added more depth to the program and helped explain to those unfamiliar with the story of Anne’s creator about why it was so important to Montgomery. It also highlighted the fact this is the 100th anniversary of the book being published.

The first act was received well by the audience, with plenty of laughter at Anne’s (Amy Wallis) outrageous, but sincere apology to Mrs. Rachel Lynde. Also popular was Matthew’s deadpan humour and reaction to the changes Anne was making in the Green Gables household. The song “Ice Cream” at the end of the first act, and the Sunday School picnic scenes also drew appreciative applause from the audience. Amy Wallis, in her third year playing Anne, seemed quite comfortable in the role.

During the second act, the highlights included Diana becoming drunk on what she thought was raspberry cordial, and the touching scenes near the end between Matthew and Anne, where he sings the title song “Anne of Green Gables.” At the end of the performance, the audience gave the cast a standing ovation.

Matt Wagman, who plays Gilbert Blythe in the musical, said he thought the opening performance went well, particularly since the cast had been rehearsing the other show on the mainstage this year, British InvasionII: America Strikes Back, for the most of the week.

At the conclusion of the show, those in attendance were invited to an after party held adjacent to the theatre near Mavor’s and Memorial Hall. Food and drinks were provided and the cast and crew of the musical mingled with the crowd, accepting congratulations on a superb opening night.

It was an excellent performance to begin Anne’s 44th season, indicating that despite (or perhaps because of) the musical’s age, it has plenty to offer for those looking to reconnect with Anne and for those who have just discovered her.

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