Superfluous Songs, Sweet Spirit: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

Photo credit: Gary Ng; A History of PEI.

Script adapted by Don Harron
Score by Norman Campbell
Directed by Jane Staab

presented by Wheelock Family Theatre
200 The Riverway
Boston, MA
October 19th – November 18th, 2012
Wheelock Family Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

The Anne of Green Gables franchise is prone to schmaltz. Any literary series that is adored by pre-teen girls, misty-eyed elderly women and Japanese soap opera anime fans can’t help but spin off some over-the-top theater. Few productions can find that young-at-heart sweet spot captured so perfectly by the series’ original creator L.M Montgomery. Anne, the orphan girl who shakes up Prince Edward
Island with her sentimental and vibrant perspective, is the tragic optimist in all of us. Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of the musical Anne of Green Gables largely succeeds in capturing the sweet spirit of the original tale with a strong cast that commits to looking at the world through the unjaded prism of youth.

The production’s success is doubly impressive because this show had such an unsatisfactory script to use. While the show’s text writer, Don Harron, largely doesn’t get in the way of the best moments of the original story, his musical partner Norman Campbell and he are largely not up to the task of creating a
credible musical. The story is weighed down by forgettable songs that serve no dramatic purpose, and it is a wonder that the audience keeps its attention on the show, at all.

The fact that the audience, at least half children, stays in the game is a testament to Jennifer Beck Glick, who helms the play with her pitch-perfect performance as melodramatic Anne. Glick not only brings a ton of energy to the part, but she seems to be able to change emotions as quickly as Anne, and she is able to keep stride of Anne’s roller coaster emotional existence. Director Jane Staab also does a great job making sure that the cast buys into the script, even during the script’s weakest moments. Every song, even the structurally-painful-to-listen-to ones, is delivered with gusto, and Staab uses imaginative blocking to allow the action to spill out into the audience and keep kids guessing what will happen next.

Staab and the cast save the show from mediocrity and raise it to the level where the audience can walk away with a wistful sigh. Thanks to their efforts, this play will be a treat for the young and young-at-heart, if less so for the musically sensitive.

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