I just got back from Prince Edward Island, which is one of my absolute favourite places on earth.
Full disclosure: I am a “kindred spirit”. I adore the Anne books, I’ve met 2 of the author’s granddaughters, I own the movies on both DVD and VHS, I’ve interviewed Jonathan Crombie (the movie Gilbert Blythe), and yes, I have been to an L.M. Montgomery convention. (Which is actually crazier than a Star Trek Convention. And I should know: I went to um, well a lot of them in the 90’s at the height of TNG, but I digress…)
But here’s the dark secret: I vowed I would rather stick needles in my eyes than ever have to sit through Anne of Green Gables -The Musical ever again.
In fact, the last time I endured it was only because Don Harron, one of it’s authors guilted me into it. We
were using the facilities at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown when he ascended. “Oh, “ he said ushering us to our seats. “I can’t wait to see your daughter’s face while she watches it.” Thank god he didn’t, because my daughter hated it as much as I did. Why? It was hokey, corny, cloyingly annoying and it lacked the heart and depth of both the books and the first two Sullivan movies.
So when I heard that the musical was being revamped, I was both leery and curious. With Marcia Kash directing, I knew it they’d be on the right track. And Don Harron even agreed to reworking some of the book, so I kept my fingers crossed as I kept calling the cast during rehearsals, continually asking “is it good?”
“Are you lying?”
I bribed my husband and children with Raspberry Cordial and we went to the show. Not only did we not stick needles in our eyes, we actually loved it.
Though there’s still a sequence we all agreed should be cut for length, this production is virtually night and day from it’s predecessor.
Gone is the 1960’s patchwork quilt. In it’s place are Doug Paraschuk and Ben Chaisson’s state of the art projection screens. Instead of a hokey “pretend we’re on a buggy pretending to bob up and down with a dilapidated cardboard cut out horse” sequence, we’re whisked through PEI’s stunning scenery, completely immersing us in
Anne’s world and Anne’s land.
Mike Jackson’s choreography, while occasionally paying homage to the original, is exciting and fresh. The Egg & Spoon Race, which used to be more painful to sit through than the latest Anne movie, was quite simply brilliant. The exhilarated reaction from our audience didn’t do it justice. The only reason we didn’t stand was because we were glued to the edge of our seats waiting to see what would happen next.
The beautifully voiced Tess Benger, taking on the title role for the 1st time, though still lacking the maturity to flesh out the final scenes, is a bright, plucky Anne with whom you immediately fall in love. When she sings “Gee I’m Glad I’m No One Else But Me” you truly believe it.
Kristian Truelsen as Matthew, can make you laugh and break your heart without missing a beat, and Susan Johnston Collins is the perfect Rachel Lynde.
They had tried once before to update the show. It was met with an almost hostile opposition and was quickly reverted back. So I asked director Marcia Kash how she felt about tackling this iconic show.
Says Marcia: “It was very intimidating as a project. It is nothing short of holy for a lot of people so there was much resistance and skepticism to any change whatsoever. That was our biggest challenge actually, making people understand we respected what it was and how it worked but wanting to bring it forward into a contemporary style of storytelling. We knew it was a controversial thing to do but we also believed in what we were trying to achieve.”
Though the programmes calls the production “reimagined”, I would suggest it’s actually what the show should have been all along. Artistic Director Anne Allan should be applauded for taking a gamble and stacking the deck with such a stellar team.