Over the past few years, The Human Race Theatre Company, located in Dayton, Ohio, has committed itself to developing and presenting new and lesser-known musicals through both its Musical Theater Workshop Series and as part of its subscription season. Green Gables, The Musical is the latest piece fostered by Human Race. Instead of a staging in the company's normal space, the 219-seat Loft Theater, the musical is being presented as part of Dayton's Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series at the 1100-seat Victoria Theatre. This Green Gables captures the quirky charm of its well-known source material, but tries to tell too much of the story for its own good.
Green Gables is one of several musical adaptations of the novel Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The story follows the misadventures and childhood of Anne Shirley, a young orphan who is accidentally delivered to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert circa the early 1900s in Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Despite her sometime brazen behavior and own self-doubt, as well as the prejudices of the townsfolk against orphans, Anne eventually wins everyone over with her eager heart and creative mind.
The score for the Green Gables is by Cincinnati-based team Mark Friedman and Janet Yates Vogt. There are several standout songs, including the opening "Avonlea" (which effectively establishes the setting and tone of the show), "No One To Want Me," and the catchy title song. However, several musical themes are repeated much too often, and most of the songs in the first act share the same rhythmic patter, providing little melodic variety. The lyrics are serviceable throughout, if a bit too melodramatic at times.
The show's book, also by Friedman and Vogt, certainly has its pros and cons. Much of the dialogue for Anne showing her constant chatting is quite humorous, and the story is clearly presented. But the musical drags in spots, and it seems that the authors are trying to tell too big of a story for a musical, where songs extend the storytelling pace. There is also unnecessary padding in several scenes. If little girls are expected to be Green Gables' target audience, cutting down the 2:45 running time would be helpful. In addition, the events that should create the most dramatic tension, such as when Anne nearly drowns and when she falls off a building, take place off stage, thus diminishing the emotional impact gained from the conflict.
Green Gables is at its best when Melissa Bohon, as Anne, is front and center. Ms. Bohon graduated a couple of years ago from the University of Cincinnati - College Conservatory of Music and comes directly from the Broadway cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Bohon sings the score with ease and obvious talent, but it is her acting portrayal as this central character that makes the difference. She wonderfully captures the active imagination, wide-eyed exuberance, and high-strung spunk of this loving girl, and the show comes alive when she is the focus.
The supporting cast surrounding Ms. Bohon is a mix of hits and misses. Patricia Linhart as the stern yet loving Marilla, Scott Stoney as the tenderhearted Matthew, Jennifer Babiak as faithful friend Diana Berry, and Nick Verina as school rival Gilbert Blythe all impress in their roles, both vocally and through their acting. Some others in the ensemble, however, still seemed uncomfortable in their roles still on opening night and lacked the necessary confidence in their portrayals.
Director Kevin Moore does well with keeping a consistently apt tone, with interaction among his characters, and in use of the ensemble as a Greek Chorus. In the end, however, he isn't able to overcome the clumsiness of the book and score. Creator Vogt leads a talented eight-piece orchestra playing some lovely orchestrations by Gerard Chiusano.
The functional set provided by designer Tamara L. Honesty features hung windows from the period, and the costumes by David Covach are mostly attractive and suitable. John Rensel's lighting includes some nice effects during some flashback scenes, but the show in general is too dimly lit.
This musicalization of Green Gables possesses a decent yet uneven score and book, and the staging provided by The Human Race Theater has its strengths and weaknesses. With a well-known story that is beloved by many core theatergoers, the show could have many successful productions in the future if the necessary refinements are accomplished.
Green Gables continues at the Victoria Theatre through May 15, 2005. For performance and ticket information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org.