“Anne of Green Gables: The Musical” – a play review

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

AGG 1 Anne and MarillaAnne (Eliana Gonzalez) speaks with a stern Marilla Cuthbert (Pam White) in the Master Arts Theatre production “Anne of Green Gables: The Musical” photo credit: Rae Kruithof Who in the world could ever stand up to the irresistible, irrepressible, red-haired, pigtailed, wide-eyed Anne of Green Gables?

Certainly not her on-stage rivals, challengers and others. Nor anyone in the opening night, full house crowd in Master Arts theatre.

The indefatigable Anne – unrelentingly and lovingly portrayed by young local actress Eliana Gonzalez – won over everyone's hearts with a spirit that took her high above her circumstance. And the audience was happy to go along.

The well-known, early 20th Century story tells of an orphaned girl mistakenly sent to an adopting farm family which had actually requested a boy. The tale has seen several stage and screen adaptations over the years. But this musical version sprinkled with choreography especially highlights the whimsy and emotion of small-town life in the remote Prince Edward Island, Canada.

LOOKING UP CLOSE

There are several examples.

The most hilarious was Anne's musical apology to the frumpy Mrs. Lynde (portrayed by Carol Lamer).

While visiting the family's "Green Gables" farm, the older woman had made a disparaging remark about Anne's red hair and freckles. It was a sensitive subject to the 11-year old who lashed back with a pointed insult and stormed off. (Yes, Anne has a temper!).

"Red hair and freckles have been my lifelong sorrows," she had lamented earlier.

So when her adoptive father Matthew Cuthbert (Rob Lamer) wisely suggests she eat some "Humble Pie" and apologize, she does it using a song. With her over-the-top, heart-wrenching ballad she reveals her precocious vocabulary and scenery-crunching physical expression that reached well beyond the theatre's back row.

     
 

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Another moment was a duet with her school rival Gilbert Blythe (Josh Beuker).

In the play's first act the young man had also made fun of Anne's red hair, something Anne would not forgive. "I'll Show Him" (in the second act) was a song in which the fellow students also were competing for a college scholarship and vowed to do emotional battle.

Yet it was a vivacious, joyful Anne who showed an incredibly upbeat mood: from her introductory "Gee, I'm Glad I'm No One Else But Me" to her duet "Kindred Spirits" with her newly-made best friend Diana (Jesalyn Ashby).

ACTORS ON A ROLE...

Numerous other of the characters also deserve mention in their part of the story.

Matron of the Cuthbert farm is Marilla, Matthew's sister (Pam White). At first adamant that Anne be sent back to the orphanage in exchange for a preferred boy, the no-nonsense, duty-bound Marilla gradually warms to the young girl, eventually joining Matthew as her advocate.

And there's boy-crazy Josie Pye (Katie Beuker) who has her eyes on Gilbert. But he tends to favor Anne despite her repeated rejection of his apologies.
And there were others.

Easily overcoming a few usual opening night quirks, the all-ages cast came together wonderfully. Most noteworthy on the large ensemble numbers, such as the hubbub of "General Store" (in which the soft-spoken Matthew attempts to purchase a new dress for Anne) and the first act-closer "The Picnic (Ice Cream)." That tastefully delightful anthem was briefly reprised as a show-ending encore.

AGG 2 Anne and Gilbert Anne reflects after a school day teasing from Gilbert (Josh Beuker) in "Anne of Green Gables: The Musical"  By the way, Master Arts continues to wring efficient use from its limited square footage. The "pit" musicians are tucked away in the adjacent lobby area, with a video screen to monitor the on-stage action. Scene changes are similarly tight in the "black-box" style main theatre.

But in the spirit of the upstart Anne (always spelled with an "e"!), the cast and crew combine for a joyous theatre experience that will not be denied.

Details:

A Review: "Anne of Green Gables: The Musical" – adapted from the novel by L.M. Montgomery. Music by Norman Campbell
presented by Master Arts Theatre (MAT) on Thursday Sept. 12.
Directed by Cathy Van Lopik
Musical Director, Richard Cerchia
Stage Time: 2 hours 15 minutes; plus 15 min. intermission
"Anne of Green Gables: The Musical": performances at 7:30pm Thursdays through Saturdays, with 2pm Sat. matinees through Oct. 5 at MAT, 75 77th St. SW Byron Township.
Tickets are $19 adults, $17 seniors and students. Available online https://ticketpeak.com/res/masterarts or call the theatre office 616-455-1001.
(What's ahead: MAT's next main-stage production is "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly," - a sequel to Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"; Nov. 21 – Dec. 14).

     
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
About:
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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