Anne of Green Gables: Forever Young

By Meghan Hubley
I should let you know before I begin that every time I go to the theatre I feel a childish giddiness and homey warmth that I have known for many years. As I have grown and watched and learned, the fuzzy feeling is now accompanied by a weary, but hopeful, anxiety…”pleeeease let it be good…pleeeease let it touch me, pleeeease don’t fall asleep! “Both of these extreme states of being were heightened while on my way to opening night of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: THE MUSICAL at the Elgin Theatre. Why heightened? Let’s begin with I, Meghan Anne avec an H and an E, with freckles, red (dish) hair, an orphan for 3 weeks of my life, from the east coast, who has seen the show twice in PEI as a child and carried around a copy of a condensed version of the story for months and months as an 8 year old….can be pretty snarky and judgmental at musicals. And I was totally in knots thinking about who, oh who, would play Anne?!
My ‘thing’ with musicals stems from what I enjoy the most in theatre, in general, simple and honest connections. The truth. I do love musicals, but good ones (wow I am so trite.) Shows where the acting is left aside and all I am to focus on is singing and arms waving upset me. Now, ANNE has been running for 45 years. My biggest fear was not that the show would be dated, (which, ok, the end is pretty old-school) but the performances would be. Under poor direction, the stylized dialogue (gee whilikers!) and lyrics could take over and I sure didn’t want to be stuck watching some stale show, heartbroken that I no longer could relate to the folks at Green Gables.
Well Anne, who is played by Amy Wallis, hadn’t even begun to sing her delightful ‘Gee, I’m Glad’ and I was already absolutely engaged. Through being refreshingly honest, Anne was not once made out to be caricature, which was remarkable. By remaining totally grounded the entire show and fully committing to the huge choices one playing such a fiery girl must make, Wallis made the children experiencing ANNE for the first time fall captivated, and surpassed any long time fans’ expectations.
When Anne arrives at Green Gables with her newly adopted family, old bachelor Matthew Cuthbert (Sandy Winsby, cast or directed mostly to garner many ‘awww’s’ throughout the show) and his old maid sister Marilla Cuthbert (Janet MacEwan, whose voice could make you weep singing just about anything…) and their home is revealed, I felt an instant smack of nostalgia. That set has hardly changed the last 45 years. Krista Blackwood, my friend and one of the Assistant stage manager’s for the show, described the scene changes as ‘a bunch of men pushing around big boxes.’ The two story house is fancy enough for me and it serves the story so there you go. Screens rise and fall as needed without clumsily taking one out of the experience, and there is a particularly attractive set-up upon entering Mrs. Blewlett’s home. She is a woman Anne is nearly taken in by before stubborn Marilla, who expected a boy orphan from Nova Scotia and not a spindly young lady, decides to keep her. The house has laundry hanging everywhere and comes into playful, imaginative use in the song, ‘The Facts.’
The gusto onstage far surpasses the classic set and bustley costumes. The cast at opening night had already done a preview matinee that afternoon but you could hardly tell. (And they had an 11 am show the next morning!) The choreography was not as tight as it could have been, and occasionally the dancers seemed out of synch with each other, but at least their energy were all equally through the Elgin’s roof. Plus, the dancer’s job of transforming the huge, simple stage into picnics, class rooms and nature walks, is handsomely executed.
As far as gusto goes, though, in Green Gables I’d give the top gusto award to Julain Molnar who was ravishing and radiant as Miss Stacy, Anne’s school teacher and kindred spirit. Molnar brings such originality and vigour to this role, and her song ‘Open The Window,’ I promise that you don’t want to miss the small but thoroughly enchanting performance she gives.

It is the gumption of passionate Miss Stacy, the sorrowful earth-shaking voice of Marilla and heart-wrenching humility and courage of Amy Wallis’s very own Anne that can make the longest running Canadian musical stand on its own two feet here in Toronto. City folks may not always be as welcoming to small town folks who look you in the eye and expect to be best friends at the first ice cream social you attend together, but I have faith in that spunky East Coast musical and highly recommend you give the gentle island a concrete welcome and check out ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: THE MUSICAL, now until May 24th, $25-$85 Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, 416-644-3665.

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