note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Ever since the 1908 publication of Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery’s beloved novel about lonely, imaginative orphan, “Anne of Green Gables,” and its subsequent series spanning to 1939, readers internationally have fallen in love with her and the local characters of the small, verdant village of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island (PEI).
Montgomery’s red-haired, freckle-faced heroine inspired movies and, most especially, Donald Harron’s 1965 musical adaptation, with its 26 hummable songs, performed internationally, and is an annual staple at the Charlottetown, PEI festival. Tourists also visit the original Green Gables house (which Montgomery’s elderly cousins owned), and the surrounding lands, a preservation of PEI National Park. Montgomery was raised nearby, in her strict grandparents’ home in Cavendish.
Besides individual differences, the play tackles small-town gossip, jealousy, friendship, loyalty, and more. The author’s high-spirited Anne - spelled with a final e - possesses a dramatic, runaway imagination and a feisty temper that, along with her red hair and abundance of freckles, sets her apart.
To soothe Anne’s loneliness and pain of feeling “ugly” looking, the child pretends she’s Lady Cordelia of Montmorency, a princess, whom nobody can demean.
At Wheelock Family Theatre’s production, helmed by Director Jane Staab, talented actress Jennifer Beth Glick portrays the talkative, sensitive Anne with youthful spunkiness, curiosity, and a desire for love and acceptance.
Although the orphanage in Halifax was supposed to send a boy to help aging Matthew Cuthbert with farm chores, they mistakenly sent this small chatterbox of a girl, whom Matthew loves instantly. However, his sister, Marilla, wants to send Anne back right away.
When Anne colors her sad chronicle as an abused orphan in two previous homes, Marilla reluctantly relents.
Robert Saoud as the stammering, kindly Matthew is wonderfully loving and tender here, while Jacqui Parker as no-nonsense Marilla delivers her usual outstanding performance. Marilla is shocked when Anne loses her temper with adult friend Rachel Lynde (Boston’s acclaimed Maureen Keiller), who offhandedly calls Anne homely, but Anne’s melodramatic apology in her outstanding solo, “Oh, Mrs. Lynde,” wins them over. There’s happiness, too. When Anne meets her new, and only friend, giggly, exuberant Diana Barry, the two little girls frolic about in the song, “Kindred Spirits”. Jenna Lea Scott beams as Diana, spreading joy in every scene she appears. Anne’s also inspired by her new teacher, Miss Stacey (Ceit Zweil), who teaches the children to “Open the Windows” and learn about the world around them.
The upbeat 32-member cast, garbed in Lisa Simpson’s charming 1800’s costumes, are lively and harmonious, prancing, dancing and singing on stage, up and down theater aisles, and in the main aisle, delighting wide-eyed, excited children. Matthew Lazure’s set, with its period school desks, chalkboard, slates, small general store and farmhouse, lends historic, charming touches.
Music Director Robert Rucinski on keyboard and his six merry musicians nicely accompany all numbers, while choreographer Laurel Conrad capitalizes on picnic games, such as the three-legged race and egg-and-spoon race, and energetic folk dances.
Audiences of all ages are enjoying this timeless, family-friendly production.
BOX INFO: Two-act family musical, featuring several Boston favorite performers, through Nov. 18, at Wheelock Family Theatre, 180 The Riverway, Boston. Showtimes: Friday, Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.; matinees, Saturday, Sunday, at 3 p.m. Tickets:$30,$25,$20; teens take-over Fridays, $15. Call the Box Office at 617-879-2300, visit firstname.lastname@example.org or wwwWheelockFamilyTheatre.org.