Anne of Green Gables —The Musical™
Review by Pan Wendt
For a musical that features an overexposed icon, not to mention loads of sentimentality, this show is still pretty fresh, especially if you bring your six-year-old daughter along. It’s tough to beat the catchy tunes and general up-up-up, and Jennifer Toulmin makes the best Anne I’ve seen, often dominating the proceedings with her calisthenic physical comedy and sharp delivery.
As well she should, since “if it wasn’t for Anne,” well, would the Charlottetown Festival be such a huge attraction? I think for Islanders it can be a bizarre experience to watch our heroine in the grey and white outfit, straw hat and red braids skip in front of the wonderful cartoonish original sets they’ve resurrected in the last few years. On the one hand Anne embodies plucky originality and flouting of convention; on the other, she’s like a walking trademark, a singing and dancing Coke sign. While the musical is rocking at high speed (and cheer), as in almost the whole first act, this is a good thing. You feel like you’re part of a collective basking in Anne’s wit and glow. But when things get slower and heavier, as in some of the second act’s lessons in growing up, it can be a bit tedious. Two years ago I thought it was just the length that put my then four-year old to sleep. Now I’m pretty sure it’s that the musical starts to run out of steam and surrenders Anne’s hard-won principles. It’s sad to see Anne go from the gleefully over-the-top “Humble Pie” collaboration with Matthew Cuthbert to the real humble pie of scholarship competitions and bland old Gilbert.
But this is mostly finding things to complain about, since even if you’ve seen it a dozen times Anne is still a great show, alive and well in its current edition. The cast was full of total pros (Michael Fletcher’s Matthew Cuthbert, Judy Marshak’s Marilla, and Robin Craig’s Rachel Lynde stood out especially), the script and nearly all of the songs were sharp and superbly paced, and the direction flawless. Every detail seemed to have been given plenty of attention, but this time I really noticed the sets. Often choosing the negative space around a window frame to stand in for a whole wall, or a two-dimensional cutout for a tree, the economy and subtle wit of the set design, which helped the action on stage (especially Anne’s) stand out all the more, was representative of the strengths of the musical as a whole. Anne hasn’t achieved classic status for nothing.