Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™
Review by Pan Wendt
This year’s Anne of Green Gables continues in the vein of last year’s classic, understated and precise rendition of a musical that remains miraculously fresh after more than four decades. With each passing year the focus of the stage adaptation of Anne on the brilliant sweetness and openness of youth, on (short) Island summers, and on the temporariness of it all seems more eloquent. And that’s a good thing, because some of it is fairly dated, like the very 1960s school pageant, with its “Eskimos” and “Indians” and Fleur-de-Lis. “Anne of Green Gables, Never Change” indeed, to quote the lyrics of the song, that sums it up.
To keep this musical exciting it needs new life breathed into it every time, not necessarily by tinkering with formula so much as by insisting that everyone hits their marks and plays their parts with crispness, conviction and a commitment to getting the maximum out of three hours that, for the most part, go by too quickly. I’ve always felt that the script drags a tiny bit in the second act, but, in general, Anne is a masterpiece of snappy pacing made stronger by actors who don’t mess around with it, and don’t show off too much. Maybe Anne is an entertainment machine by now, but it was designed to be and it works, partly because it has something to say about itself.
The best parts of this year’s Anne involve the family triangle of Anne, Marilla and Mathew, played by Amy Wallis, Janet MacEwen and Sandy Winsby respectively. Helped by the occasional interventions of Rachel Lynde (played with great tone and timing by Charlotte Moore) the trio has developed even more chemistry as a group since last year, when they already achieved fine form in their debut season. All bring nuance and subtlety to the roles, with Amy Wallis toning down the cute factor just enough to make sure we never get sick of the heroine, but without adding unnecessary melodrama or darkness to the performance. She also has a great singing voice.
It’s hard to think of anything wrong with such a solid version of Anne, so the defects that come to mind are probably trivial or fairly subjective at best. To take an example, some of the wigs were a bit much. I don’t recall noticing the wiggishness of the wigs so much before, but the hair on some of this year’s players (we won’t mention any names) didn’t look right somehow. And perhaps it’s an issue with the script that Gilbert Blythe is so often a slightly thin character in the show—he doesn’t get that many great lines, after all—but I still want more evidence that he’s really worth Anne’s attention. This year, despite the best efforts of Louie Rossetti, Gilbert, as usual, seems to be trying to keep up a lot of the time. I wonder if the role as written could be tinkered with slightly. But yet again, from top to bottom, a great show, everybody included. The last two seasons of Anne have been the strongest I can remember.