Anne and Gilbert
Review by Pan Wendt
This show is always going to have to contend with its mighty predecessor, and like all sequels, it’s not completely up to the task. But considering that young adult Anne was somewhat less interesting than teenage Anne in the original books, Anne and Gilbert does a tremendous job making something of the situation. For starters, writers Nancy White, Bob Johnston and Jeff Hochhauser opted for a different feel overall from Anne of Green Gables, in part by making music, dialogue and lyrics much more contemporary, quirky and risqué than in the original classic show. At times the show opts for generalized takes on universal romantic problems, but more often than not things get a bit strange and sometimes brilliant, and Anne and Gilbert are revealed as two of the many town oddballs.
The show takes up where Anne left off, and concentrates on the inevitable union of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, who are attending the same college. Both of them are, of course, waylaid by distractions: Anne’s idealism, the endless stream of girls drawn to Gilbert’s studliness, and a rich smooth-talker who woos Anne. Counterbalancing the distractions is destiny, in the form of missed-opportunities-that-must-be-redeemed (Marilla’s), the truth of true love above all (a rich and beautiful university friend who falls for a humble goofball fiddler), and “the Island,” which always draws true Islanders back together, among other olde themes.
All of these clichés are undercut by the songs, which dominate the dialogue much more than they do in Anne, and which are filled with witty and sharp moments, lyrically and musically, and by the well-drawn characters and fine repartee between the actors. Heidi Ford nearly stole the show as Josie Pye, and her scene on the beach with Peter Deiwick’s Gilbert was one of the play’s best moments. Melanie LeBlanc made Anne her own, and among other standouts were Pam Stevenson as Rachel Lynde and Natalie Sullivan as Anne’s school friend Philippa Gordon.
All in all, it was a fine show, full of strong performers and material, and a worthy sequel. Clearly Anne and Gilbert has a long future. Hopefully more work will be done on the book: some of the scenes and songs feel as though they are just moving through parts of the story, while others are brilliant takes on the whole situation. I thought the songs, dancing and general rah-rah-rah was better than the dialogue or the acting. But this musical has made a strong start, and if I’m hard on it it’s because it has a lot to live up to. Good show.