Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Anne of Green Gables
Sonoma Arts Live
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's review of Every Brilliant Thing and Patrick's review of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley

Bryan Hendon, Shirley Nilsen Hall, and Melody Payne
Photo by Miller Oberlin
Billed as a family musical, the adaptation of Anne of Green Gables playing at Sonoma Arts Live fulfills that appellation with its homespun, innocent and charming warmth. Commendable acting, particularly that of Melody Payne playing Anne, along with attractive spectacle and staging make for a pleasant evening spent in 1908 Avonlea.

Based on the much-loved novels of L.M. Montgomery, Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman's musical unfolds in episodes highlighting the best-known scenes from the books. Spunky orphan girl Anne (Payne), with her flaming red hair and freckles, is adopted somewhat by accident by siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Bryan Hendon and Shirley Nilsen Hall), who originally wanted a boy. Anne's natural exuberance and generous spirit earn her way into their hearts and a forever home at Green Gables farm. After early missteps and mishaps, Anne also wins over schoolmates and neighbors, eventually becoming a beloved citizen for the town.

Anne's trials and antics are sometimes amusing, sometimes sobering, and still have a contemporary feeling—Montgomery's stories include scenes of bullying, prejudice and small-mindedness, as well as young love, friendship, and familial affection. There's also a nascent feminism in Anne's forthright nature, intelligence, and refusal to accept limitations on her potential. More than 100 years from her creation, she remains a good role model for all of us. Children (of nine or more) and teens unfamiliar with Anne may enjoy this introduction to the young heroine.

This adaptation captures the spirit of the stories, adding occasional vocal numbers for accentuation. It's more of a play with music, thankfully including ample amounts of dialogue from Montgomery's text. The songs aren't especially memorable, being simple tunes intended for nonprofessional casts, but they serve the plot and emotional arc.

Melody Payne does the character of Anne terrific justice, histrionics and all, with excellent vocals and a playful demeanor that never slips into caricature. She truly shines in the role, a portrayal worth seeing. She's ably assisted by Hendon and Hall with their own folksy appeal. Rachel Davidson, sweet and beautifully voiced, plays best friend Diana Barry. It's also a rare and welcome chance to see the company's artistic director, Jaime Love, on stage as Mrs. Barry.

As Gilbert, James Wittous is less confident vocally, but fine as the lovelorn boyfriend. The ensemble as a whole conveys their enthusiasm for the story and their part in supporting it.

Director Libby Oberlin does well with staging and characterizations, working with a lovely set designed by Carl Jordan. Costumes by Janis Snyder nicely evoke the early 20th century, and lighting by Robin DeLuca enhances different locales and times. Choreography by LC Arisman is oddly limited to upper-body movement. Music director Sandy Wright Riccardi guides mostly amateur voices for agreeable singing, and keeps the tempi brisk. Sound design by Tom Luekens keeps the balance optimal between stage and pit.

Amiable and engaging, with a standout performance in the title role, the Sonoma Arts Live production gently warms the heart and delivers a positive message for the holiday season.

Anne of Green Gables, through December 9, 2018, at Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma Community Center, 276 East Napa St., Sonoma CA. Tickets $20.00-$40.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 866-710-8942.