REVIEW: Inspiring Anne opens new season

Lennie MacPherson
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Marilla, (Marlane O’Brien); Matthew (Tim Koetting); and Anne (Tess Benger) from Anne of Green Gables, the Musical.

I’ve seen and enjoyed Anne of Green Gables - the Musical on stage at the Confederation Centre many times now, and I do believe this is my favourite year.

I found myself noticing things I hadn’t picked up before, and appreciating other moments more fully. This summer features a majorly talented cast, brimming with enthusiasm, seemingly challenging and motivating one another.

The tidied up (but still familiar) dialogue from last year’s re-imagining, skips along so fresh and unencumbered. Everything is honed.

It was a bold decision to re-work the production in 2011, and was understandably met with some resistance — myself included. I’d felt an attachment to the old look and feel, and thought it was a case of fixing what wasn’t broken. But things must evolve. And almost every detail was approached with a thoroughness and respect that the original production deserves.

Anne is everywhere, and we can sometimes find ourselves tuning out. We may even dismiss that we have a world recognized classic right in front of us. A classic, inspired by a classic, no less. I’ll write the word classic once more, for good measure.

People save up for years and years just to come visit the setting of this story. Think of something that moves you so.

On stage, the new set pieces are elegant and rich. The lighting is magical. The projections are mostly sympathetic, though I find the images that appear more hand drawn work better than the obvious digital mock-ups, which make for a slight lack of cohesion.

But you’ll only notice that if you can take your eyes off the stage. The show dazzles. The choreography is naturally woven through the story. Choreographer Mike Jackson took full advantage of those distinct and memorable dances, and spit-shined everything.

Director Marcia Kash developed a perfectly engrossing pace. Every moment is given its due, with the softer and more bombastic moments ebbing fluidly. Character interactions feel important, and the snappy dialogue is showcased. The orchestra, once again under the masterful guidance of Don Fraser, is full and lush.

Tess Benger, in her second year as the red-braided lead, makes an undeniable mark on the sought after role. She playfully articulates everything, with sweeping and precise gestures commanding such presence. And she is hilarious. I’ve never giggled so much at the show.

Benger also has a schooled, strong voice which can be moving or silly or both (see: The Apology). Her amazing performance doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast though, by any means.

Marlane O’Brien, who has a known gift for comedy, shows notable range here with her grounded portrayal of Marilla. Reserved and proper, unaffectionate, but not hateful at all. The slight cracks of vulnerability, whether it’s after making a dress for Anne, or after Matthew’s passing, become truly affecting.

Tim Koetting debuts as Matthew and does a commendable job, doting on Anne, but fumbling through his social interactions with everyone else in Avonlea, almost making you wish the inevitable ending could change.

Katie Kerr as Diana, and Justin Stadnyk as Gilbert, bring the right amount of comedy and sweetness. Really, everybody that touches the stage in this year’s production is outstanding. The vocals, the dancing, the energy — it’s all so inspiring.

 

Lennie MacPherson, a Charlottetown-based writer, actor and musician, writes theatre reviews for The Guardian during the summer months. He welcomes feedback at mockmywoodsgmail.com.

Organizations: Confederation Centre

Geographic location: Green Gables, Avonlea

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