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“Anne of Green Gables”

Goodspeed Opera House

Goodspeed Opera House is currently presenting a new musical adaptation of “Anne of Green Gables,” which is lively, endearing, yet a bit overstuffed.  With a superior cast, a good score by Matt Vinson and Matte O’Brien, and inventive choreography, this musical certainly engages the audience throughout.  “Anne of Green Gables” is also blessed with a terrific actress, Juliette Redden, who plays Anne and completely embodies all of the character’s idiosyncrasies, winning one over from the moment she takes the stage.  Based on the 1908 novel by L. M. Montgomery, there have been many versions of “Anne of Green Gables” over the years, both onstage and on film.  Considering the time period of the show’s story, this new adaptation can sometimes feel anachronistic, with its contemporary sounding score and attitudes.

That said, this new show works and can pull at the heartstrings as one follows the adventures of Anne throughout the show.  And, while it brings to mind such recent musicals as “Wicked,” “Mean Girls,” and even “Spring Awakening,” there are enough fine elements in the production that it can stand on its own.  Director Jenn Thompson has done an excellent job of guiding this show and she has managed to bring out the best in all the performers in the cast.  Overall, “Anne of Green Gables” at Goodspeed Opera House can seem slightly overlong and it definitely needs tightening and refining.  But, with some work, it is possible that this new “Anne of Green Gables” has a viable chance of not only having a future on Broadway, but of finding an audience, as well.

With book and lyrics by Matte O’Brien and music by Matt Vinson, “Anne of Green Gables” comes alive with the opening song for the title character, called “Waiting.”  Indeed, this show and score have vitality and vibrancy to spare and the writers have made sure that they give good songs to all of the leading characters in the show.  As Anne, Juliette Redden is a dream, with her red hair and overflowing personality and she also possesses a glorious singing voice.  As the brother and sister who adopt Anne from the orphanage, D. C. Anderson, as Matthew, and Sharon Catherine Brown, as Marilla are similarly ideal. Both performers get their big numbers in the show, with “Matthew’s Song” being folksy and sweet and “Marilla’s Song,” near the conclusion, rocking the theater with its power and providing a shining moment for Brown.

As the would-be sweetheart of Anne’s, Pierre Marais is just great as Gilbert Blythe, the handsome and outgoing boy at school who ultimately competes against Anne for academic honors. Marais does well with his opening song, “Easy,” and then puts over the next to closing number, “Before You Hit the Ground,” splendidly.  As Diana, Michelle Veintimilla is the true friend that Anne finds in the town and this actress is extremely winning, especially in the second act solo, “Diana’s Lament.”  Also shining and stealing scenes is the exuberant Aurelia Williams as Rachel Lynde, the town gossip who can be more than a bit meddling.  Rachel and Anne share a song in the second act, “Make a Move,” with Williams, as Rachel, displaying a roof-raising voice.

The physical production of “Anne of Green Gables” is quite wonderful, with atmospheric set design by Wilson Chin and fine costumes provided by Tracy Christensen.  The lighting design by Philip S. Rosenberg is simply superb and music director Matthew Smedal does a fantastic job of leading the off-stage orchestra.  It must also be mentioned that Matt Vinson’s music sounds grand thanks to the fabulous orchestrations by Justin Goldner.  Director Jenn Thompson also works wonders with choreographer Jennifer Jancusaka.  Jancusaka’s contributions are pretty outstanding and, even during a solo number for one of the leads, she provides stage-enhancing choreography and dance steps in the background, which help shape each scene and which are executed flawlessly by the supporting ensemble of actors in the show.

“Anne of Green Gables” certainly has a lot going for it and it offers quite a full evening of theater.  One can carp over the length of the show, which is roughly two hours and forty-five minutes, with an intermission, but the assets in the musical outweigh the flaws.  In its present state, the musical isn’t completely successful, but, with some work and some luck, one hopes that this show will have a life beyond Goodspeed Opera House and will, ideally, make its way to New York.  “Anne of Green Gables” is definitely worth seeing at Goodspeed Opera House to witness this new musical’s world premiere production and don’t forget to bring some tissues for the emotional songs and performances in the show.

“Anne of Green Gables” runs through September 4, 2022 at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.goodspeed.org.

Photo: (L-R): Sharon Catherine Brown, Juliette Redden, and D. C. Anderson

Photo by Diane Sobolewski

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