Anne of Green Gables: The Musical

Anne of Green Gables: The Musical

Lisa Lennox as Diana, Tess Benger as Anne
Lisa Lennox as Diana, Tess Benger as Anne

Book & Lyrics by Don Harron
Music & Lyrics by Norman Campbell
Directed by Marcia Kash
Choreographed by Mike Jackson
Musical direction by Donald Fraser
Performed by Tess Benger, Nora McLellen, Kristian Truelsen, Justin Stadnyk, Lisa Lennox, Stephanie West et al.
Charlottetown Festival, Confederation Centre, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
June 28 to August 31, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

As Fiery as her Red Hair

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Anne of Green Gables: The Musical. As a life-long fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel, I’ve seen every production possible – I’ve seen it in school gyms and in the open air, in community theatres and on the professional stage. But nothing can compare to the production currently running in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

And, of course, that’s as it should be. The Charlottetown Festival’s Anne has to be the best ever: that’s where it all began. And this year, with their “re-imagined” version, it is better than ever, with an amazing cast.

L. M. Montgomery first published her story of the red-headed orphan in Prince Edward Island in 1908. Amazingly, the tale still fascinates today. Even Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge wanted to visit PEI on her recent Canadian tour with Prince William because she is an Anne fan. The Anne story was first made into a musical movie in 1956, by iconic Canadian actor Don Harron and Norman and Elaine Campbell. By 1964, they had developed it into a stage musical to be performed at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre, where it has remained, unchanged, each summer for 47 years!

But 2011 has marked a turning point – Anne of Green Gables has been “re-imagined”, as the posters euphemistically brag. From what I saw, they have made two very important changes: the sets and the choreography have been brought into the 21st century, but they’ve kept the magic of the story as it was back in the 19th century. The re-imagined scenery and dance have ensured that this show will continue for at least another 47 years.

The improved set includes Prince Edward Island’s red soil, green trees, and blue skies and water projected onto screens, along with the typical town scenes and of course, the Green Gables house, complete with the staircase up to Anne’s room.

Mike Jackson’s choreography is intricate and exciting, keeping the show lively.

But even with these improvements, it’s the cast that makes this show. Tess Benger is the ultimate Anne. She has the fiery energy to go with the red pigtails. During her temper tantrum with Mrs. Lynde, she not only tosses her braids, but also exhales in frustration blowing her bangs askew. Her energy fills the stage and she brings the character to life the way that L. M. Montgomery envisioned her. Tess is true to the original descriptions of Anne. She is an excellent singer and handles the score perfectly. She sings “The Facts” perfectly – first her lively and loud proclamation that she is the Lady Cordelia de Montmorency, but when pressed for the true the story, she sadly whispers “the facts,” tugging at your heartstrings.

Nora McLellan is a stern Marilla but also allows her sense of fun to show, just the way L.M. Montgomery intended. Kristian Truelsen plays an excellent Matthew, endearing himself to the audience. Truelsen sings his songs, such as “Humble Pie” and “The Words” where other Matthews just talk them.

Lisa Lennox is a charming Diana Barry, a true kindred spirit for Anne. Justin Stadnyk plays Gilbert Blyth with the right mix of mischief and appeal. His duet with Anne “I’ll Show Him” is a perfect blend. Stephanie West is excellent as Josie Pye, delighted to spread nasty gossip, as she leads the singing in “Did You Hear?”. Lindsay Croxall is a charismatic Miss Stacy, calming the excitable Avonlea school children. The rest of the ensemble, including area children make up a delightful cast.

Even 86-year-old Don Harron, one of the creators of the Anne musical 47 years ago, has given his stamp of approval. Anne of Green Gables enjoyed a brief stint off-Broadway in New York in 1971. Perhaps it’s time to return to the Big Apple or tour it around North America. The new re-imagined version and this excellent cast would make Canada proud.

Anne of Green Gables continues at the Charlottetown Festival, Confederation Centre, Charlottetown until August 31. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-565-0278 or check


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