Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™
Review by Doug Gallant
There are those for whom summer in Prince Edward Edward does not officially begin until they hear the opening phrases of music from Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™.
That may seem odd to some people.
But for those who have developed a deep and abiding love for the orphan girl with freckles and hair as red as carrots who finds love, hope and a sense of belonging in rural Prince Edward Island it doesn’t seem odd at all.
Season after season they make their way to the Charlottetown Festival, their tickets clutched in their hands like letters from home, to rekindle their relationship with Anne with an “e.”
And they cherish the opportunity to share her story, a story so beautifully crafted by Lucy Maud Montgomery that iconic American author Mark Twain once wrote Montgomery a letter to congratulate her on creating “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.”
And so it was on Canada Day when Montgomery’s most beloved creation returned to the festival stage with a new spring in her step and a new twinkle in her eye.
She returned with a dramatic new look that incorporated everything from new costumes, new wigs, new lighting and a new sound design to a bold new set in which the classic Green Gables house has been replaced with a somewhat more austere but still commanding structure which handsomely serves the purpose for which it was designed.
Festival artistic director Adam Brazier, who chose to direct Anne himself this season, has made several changes in keeping with his vision for the world’s longest running musical.
Those changes range from something as major as recasting three of the production’s principal roles to introducing a funeral procession after Matthew Cuthbert’s death and reorienting the placement of the desks at Avonlea School to give the audience a better perspective of the business happening between Anne Shirley, bosom friend Diana Barry and would-be beau Gilbert Blythe.
Unquestionably the most significant of those changes is the introduction of a bright, shiny new face in the lead role of Anne Shirley.
AJ Bridel has stepped into the high button shoes of the spirited and adventurous young Anne who, after years of being bumped from foster home to foster home, finally finds the family and the love she so desperately desired.
Bridel is an absolutely delightful Anne. From the moment you first encounter her at the Bright River train station where she greets Matthew Cuthbert, the first true father figure in her life, to the closing scene with Marilla Cuthbert in the kitchen at Green Gables after Matthew’s funeral, she wraps her arms around you and pulls you to her heart. She laughs, you laugh, she cries, you cry.
And she is beautifully supported throughout her journey by new principals George Masswohl and Susan Henley, who play Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, the brother and sister duo who represent the closest thing to a family Anne has ever known. Masswohl’s Matthew is such a lovely man, warm and caring with a gentle sense of humour. Henley’s Marilla is no less impressive as she makes the transition from reluctant host to a deeply compassionate figure with maternal instincts she never knew she had.
There are very solid performances here as well from Aaron Hastelow who returns for his second season as Gilbert, Katie Kerr, who sparkles as Diana, Josée Boudreau, who brings a wonderful energy to Miss Stacey and festival veteran Marlane O’Brien who ably portrays Rachel Lynde.
Brazier’s inspired direction, new choreography by Robin Calvert, and the stunning new design work executed on several fronts breathe new life into Anne, enabling the production to fully serve the heartwarming story Montgomery created more than a hundred years ago.
—Select dates at Confederation Centre of the Arts. Tickets/info: www.confederationcentre.com.