Ah! I love Nickelodeon, especially Nick at Nite. It’s a quirky kind of TV twilight zone that time travels back electronically to all the old shows that you grew up with and loved. No one ages. That ‘70s hair style still looks “Welcome Back Kotter” fresh. Every show is tied up with a pink bow of happiness and there’s a Snuggie-like comfort around you as you indulge. Way back when, there used to an old show on TV called Underdog. It was a cartoon parody of Superman as a dog. Whenever the lovely Sweet Polly Purebred was in trouble, Underdog flew to the rescue shouting, “There's no need to fear-- Underdog is here!” Okay, so what does this have to do with ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, the newest musical production at the Wheelock Family Theatre? Everything! You see, Anne, (Don’t even think about forgetting the e) is the adorable and enthusiastic Underdog of this musical story.
Adapted by Donald Harron and based on the autobiography of Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES is the musical journey of an orphan named Anne Shirley (Jennifer Beth Glick) who comes to live with Marilla (Jacqui Parker) and Matthew Cuthbert (Robert Saoud) on their farm. Once Anne arrives, Matthew immediately bonds to the overly dramatic and linguistically gifted youngster. His sister, Marilla, however, needs much more convincing, but she too soon falls under Anne’s spell. Under the skillful direction of Jane Staab, this show seamlessly glides from one side of the stage to the other and even spills into the aisles of the theater. A bicycle rides down the center aisle while turn-of-the-century school girls and boys frolic, run, and sing within inches of amazed audience members. It’s distinctly Wheelock and it’s also Wheelock at its best! One of those school girls is Josie Pye (Kaitee Tredway) who becomes jealous of Anne when her beau, Gilbert Blythe (Bradley Jensen), falls in love with the feisty redhead. Josie bullies, intimidates, lies, and spreads rumors to poison the minds of those around her. But Josie and all the other adults behaving badly in her life have no idea what they are in for. Anne stands up for herself using her talented sliver tongue and her street wits. I guess it’s true…“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Even though, the story takes place in the early 1900s, kids these days still navigate and face the same challenges. Bullies still thrive and exist, except now they have expanded their arsenal to cyberspace via Facebook, email, and cell phones. This is an empowering and uplifting show for kids, especially young girls, who feel peer pressure and the need to fit in on a daily basis. Additionally, all of the songs in this delightful musical take the audience to a simpler time with their joyful and exuberant melodies under the musical direction of Robert L. Rucinski. Finally, the main characters in this musical are played brilliantly by Jennifer Glick, Jacqui Parker, and Robert Saoud who pull out all the stops in their performances and pull a mesmerized audience in.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES represents the Underdog in all of us. It’s that part of you that’s tucked away in a dusty place and that won’t give up and won’t back down. She’s the part of us (even adults) that still thinks the brass ring exists and that if we just stretch a little bit further, maybe we really can reach up and grab it.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES is running until November 18.