Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Anne of Green Gables
Also see Fred's review of we are continuous
While based upon the 1908 novel by L.M. Montgomery, Goodspeed's version has a contemporary, lively feel. Wilson Chin's set is quite open and allows actors to shift around and move rough-hewn furnishings. Eight unseen instrumentalists, led by Matthew Smedal, provide lively, essential accompaniment for all songs. Matt Vinson composed the music while Matte O'Brien contributes book and lyrics. Amanda Morton is musical supervisor and Jennifer Jancuska the choreographer. Director Jenn Thompson does a splendid job of pulling it all together. New England theatergoers might have seen shows she's helmed at Goodspeed, TheaterWoirks/Hartford, Barrington Stage Company, and elsewhere. Thompson adeptly coordinates scene after scene.
Anne Shirley is a young orphan who arrives at Cuthbert Farm located in the town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Two aging siblings, Matthew (D.C. Anderson) and Marilla (Sharon Catherine Brown), take her into their shared home and come to adore her. Precocious Anne has an impressive vocabulary, love of Shakespeare, and a penchant for allowing her creative musings to lead her. That means she might very well find herself on the precipice of trouble. It's not surprising that she is a dreamer and one who doesn't withhold her emotions.
The leading young lady has blazing red hair, even if the wigs upon her head are just a tad questionable. Redden's eyes open wide as she sings "Waiting." Her Anne becomes enamored of handsome Gilbert Blythe, played by Pierre Marais, whose dulcet voice enhances tunes such as "Easy" during the first act and, in the second, "Gilbert's Lament" and "Before You Hit the Ground." Anne's interface with the Cuthberts is not always smooth. Matthew appears to be stiff, but his heart, as is Marilla's, is welcoming Anne. Her relationship with her best friend Diana Barry (Michelle Veintimilla) is stop and go. They might be "kindred spirits" but it's more complicated than that. Anne's drive propels her, regardless of obstacles seemingly blocking her path, to persevere and triumph.
You could say the performance is all about voice. After all, Redden's is sensational, especially on her reprise of "Different Kind of Girl." Veintimilla's Diana soars and "Marilla's Song" encourages Brown to cut loose and reach for the rafters, exactly what she does. In all, it's a big yet not overwhelming musical and, fortunately, Thompson brings out the most of the talented individuals. She and her team of creative artists take hold of a classic, apply a folk/rock sensibility and fuel ebullient Redden and friends to enjoy. The music is the show's driving force through company numbers, a few harmonic opportunities, duets and solos.
Children and adults with the ability to suspend time and revisit youthful impulses, will find this Anne of Green Gables pleasurable and even beguiling. It's a most inviting rendering of classic, delightful material. The literal telling of the plot in conjunction with the admirable musical renditions needs tending. Transitioning still needs work–and frankly, that is understandable–as the adaptation continues. While this Anne has been in development for a while, this depiction is probably not yet a finalized product.
"It's delightful when your imaginations come true, isn't it?" Anne asks the question and the delightful answer is that what goes on for two and one half hours at the Goodspeed Opera House frees its audience. The excitement these actors display, through performance, reaches far and wide. Who wouldn't want a piece of that?
Anne of Green Gables runs through September 4, 2022, at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For tickets and information call 860-873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org.