Anne of Green Gables

Adapted by Donald Harron, from the novel by L.M. Montgomery
Music by Norman Campbell
Performed by Jennifer Toulmin and cast
Directed by Susan Ferley
Musical Direction by Andrew Petrasiunas
Choreography by Kerry Gage
Grand Theatre Production
Grand Theatre, London
November 21 to December 30, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

A Grand Canadian Classic

Jennifer Toulmin steals the stage in the Grand’s current production of Anne of Green Gables – and well she should! She plays the lead role, Anne, capturing the precocious orphan just the way the character leaps from the pages of the classic Canadian novel.

Toulmin has electric energy as Anne, filling the Grand’s stage with activity. Her voice is Anne’s voice, keeping the gregarious chatter entertaining and endearing. Her four years’ experience playing Anne at the Charlottetown Festival is very apparent, and she makes the show a delight. Toulmin has just the right amount of “perky” without going over the top, and moves forward with Anne’s journey, maturing but not losing her charisma.

The Grand presents the musical version of the delightful novel, first penned by Lucy Maude Montgomery in 1905. It’s a story that has enchanted Canadian girls for generations, its popularity spreading round the world over the years. An aging brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla, want to adopt a boy to help out on the farm, but somehow, Anne, a gifted and very melodramatic orphan arrives at their home, Green Gables. Anne’s spirit gets her into mischief, but also brightens the lives of those around her.

Norman Campbell and Donald Harron turned the engaging story into Canada’s most popular musical in 1963, and it has continued to charm audiences in Charlottetown for 44 years. Anne of Green Gables has graced stages all across Canada, enjoyed a run in New York, appeared around the world, and is extremely popular in Japan.

The Grand’s version does justice to the institution that is Anne. An excellent set, careful attention to the music, and a strong cast are in place. Douglas Chamberlain is a wonderful Matthew, bringing more spirit to the part than is usually seen. Charlotte Moore creates humour with Mrs. Lynde, the town gossip, and Karen Coughlin (last year’s Belle in Beauty and the Beast) is a delightful Miss Stacy, the school teacher who is Anne’s kindred spirit.

It’s nice to see Ingersoll’s Anwyn Musico as Prissy Andrews. Anwyn is an alumna of the Grand’s High School Project, and was recently a finalist on CBC-TV’s Triple Sensation. Some local children round out the cast at Avonlea School: Henry Firmston, Seth Maraccio, and Jenna Quinn, all of London, and Kyla Musselman of Stratford.

Credit once again goes to Director Susan Ferley for her attention to detail, and to Andrew Petrasiunas for his excellent musical direction. The audience leaves the theatre singing the catchy tunes, such as “Ice Cream”, “Humble Pie”, “Open the Window” and the spunky “I’ll Show Him”. Or they are moved by “The Words” or “Wonderin’”. Choreographer Kerry Gage animates the cast, calling on her solid Charlottetown experience in the back-to-school ballet and the egg race number at the picnic.

It’s a slice of Canadiana that should be part of everyone’s education. The Avonlea School on the Grand’s stage is the best place to learn Anne’s story.

Anne of Green Gables continues at the Grand Theatre in London until December 30. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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