ANNE OF GREEN GABLES THE MUSICAL
Based on the novel by L.M. Montgomery
Adapted by Taffy Geisel, Music and Lyrics by Joey Geisel
Artisan Center Theater
Producer: Dee Ann Blair
Director: Taffy Geisel
Stage Manager: Abigail Scarborough
Assistant Stage Manager: Jacob Fergus
Music Director: Joey Geisel
Choreography: Brandi Dibler, Linia Bernardy, Kaycee Giammarco
Costume Design: Nita Cadenhead
Costume Stitchers: Nita Cadenhead, Jennifer Cadenhead,
Karen Whitworth, Julie Molina, Lennie B. Knight, Peggy Jobe
Millinery: Molly Priddy
Props: Tammie Phillips, Tyler Vaden, Lennie B. Knight
Props Assistant: David Phillips
Set Design: Jason Leyva
Scenic Painting: Lily Stapp
Light Design: Adam Livingston, Taffy Geisel
Light Operators: Michelle Cawood, Tess Scarborough
Musicians: Howard Geisel (violin), Laena Batchelder (violin),
Jeff Tullis (bass), Nathan Berry (cello), Parker Ott
Assistant Engineers: Matt Bush, Jonathan Cooper
Sound Operators: Debbie Vaden, Dawn Balsingame, Dan Fergus
Photography: Al Smith Photography
Graphic Design: Brian Blair
*CAST: Note: This production is double-cast. The actors listed
below appeared in the reviewed performance.
Anne Shirley: Laura Scarborough
Diana Barry: Kenady Shope
Josie Pye: Julia Large
Reviewed Performance 7/16/2011
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
"Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?" Haven't we all felt this way at some point in our lives? It's comforting to know we get a do-over with each new sunrise.
In Artisan Center Theater's production of Anne of Green Gables The Musical (running through July 30th), this question is posed by precocious, red-headed Anne Shirley, a pre-teen orphan who is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, ageing siblings who need help running their farm. The Cuthberts really want a boy to assist them with the heavy lifting, but a series of mishaps brings Anne to their home instead. The story that unfolds from there is one of learning, frustration, trust, friendship, and eventually, love.
Penned by L.M. Montgomery in 1908, Anne of Green Gables has sold over fifty million copies since its first publication. Several films and television movies have been made over the years but Artisan Center Theater's production is adapted directly from the original book. Director Taffy Geisel accepted the task of the adaptation herself, and her son Joey Geisel wrote the original music and lyrics. Mother and son take a story set in late nineteenth century Canada and bring to life a tale that is relevant in any era.
My one and only complaint about Mr. Geisel's music was that there wasn't enough of it. The songs he wrote fit well within the confines of the scenes as opposed to the songs being thrown in just to give the actors something else to do. The lyrics were clever and imaginative and the polyphonic verses of several of the pieces were solid and well-formed. I hope Mr. Geisel will expand on his already impressive work to include additional verses for some of the songs, and more songs in general. Well done, sir.
The Geisel family had much to celebrate as the matriarch's adaptation played just as well as the son's music. The narrative was descriptive and funny, and the characters were dimensional and endearing. As with my note to Mr. Geisel above, I would welcome the opportunity to see this show staged in a proscenium theater that wouldn't necessitate the numerous set changes that Artisan's in-the-round seating mandated.
The props and set pieces for The Cuthbert's living/dining area were struck and re-set probably a half dozen times which did slow the pace of the show somewhat. Mrs. Geisel's ideas both as a writer and as a director were inspired given the limitations of this theater, however.
The most intriguing set item was in the middle of Act 2 when Gilbert saved Anne from drowning in a foggy pond. Anne and her friends entered the stage on a short wooden pier, and then Anne stepped down into one of two shallow boats set on the stage floor. Fog machines created the effect of the smoky water, and combined with the depth of the boats, it truly did appear as though the boats were floating. The actors silently scooted the boats along the stage floor with their feet (the boats were hollow =96 think The Flintstones), though they pretended to use oars to complete the illusion. Kudos to Set Designer Jason Leyva and his construction/technical teams for bringing this scene to life. Also look for a well-timed quip after the smoke clears =96 I don't want to ruin it for you here.
The remainder of the set was functional but not overly ornate. The stage floor was painted to resemble a large area rug, and there was a vignette set up on the northwest side of the theater that served as Anne's bedroom. A section of the theater's east wall was painted with scenes depicting the flora and fauna around Green Gables but the painting on the south wall was the most intricate and impressive.
I could be completely wrong in my assessment of this mural but it looked to me as though pages from the book had been taken apart and stitched together randomly sort of like squares on a quilt. The mural contained pictures of scenes from the story as well as printed lines of narrative, all painted with sepia tones. I'm not sure who was credited with the idea for this mural but Scenic Painter Lily Stapp was credited with its execution and it was lovely.
Costume Designer Nita Cadenhead along with her team of stitchers accurately depicted the time period with their modest dresses and night clothes, as well as the simple overalls worn by Matthew Cuthbert. Those overalls did as much to cement the character's personality as the lines the actor delivered did. Similarly, the hats and head pieces provided by Molly Priddy were effectively used to further identify each of these characters in the late nineteenth century.
Laura Scarborough portrayed Anne Shirley, and what a marvelous, freckled job she did. One of things I loved most about Ms. Scarborough's characterization was her ability to convey her confidence and optimism while she allowed the audience to see her insecurities and flaws. Anne was an earnest, idealistic girl who wanted to learn, and who craved love but was also headstrong and outspoken =96 two characteristics not typically assigned to women of this era (she reminded me quite a bit of Marianne Dashwood from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility).
While speaking with Mrs. Geisel during intermission I learned that this young actress was fairly new to the stage which made sense given the raw energy Ms. Scarborough gushed during this performance. While a little rough around the edges =96 much like her on stage alter ego =96 Ms. Scarborough was a delight to watch.
Kenady Shope as Diana Barry was the standout amongst Anne's school friends. Diana and Anne became "bosom" friends upon Anne's arrival at Green Gables and I really felt the girls' anxiety and hurt at the prospect of their being separated. They were giggly and overly-dramatic and inquisitive =96 just like most teenage girls. Ryan Derrick was charming as Gilbert Blythe, a boy who insulted Anne on her first day of school and whom Anne was loath to forgive. Mr. Derrick effectively rendered his love struck feelings to the audience during "Carrots," one of the many songs I wish had lasted longer.
Bob Willey as Matthew Cuthbert was the glue that kept everything at Green Gables together and his moments on stage were my favorite. He was reserved and slow to anger, and without his kindred bond with Anne right from their first meeting, the story might have fallen apart. Mr. Willey had beautiful white hair that grew past his shoulders, and dressed in his character's signature overalls, I pictured him sitting on a porch in a rocking chair, whittling a piece of wood. Mr. Willey's line delivery was adequate but it wasn't his delivery that held my attention when he was on stage =96 it was his gentle presence and his quiet strength.
Outside of Anne herself the most significant role in the show was that of Marilla Cuthbert, Matthew's sister. When Matthew and Marilla agreed to adopt Anne, Marilla made it clear that she was to be in charge of rearing Anne, and that she didn't want Matthew's interference. Marilla was an interesting character because she seemed to lack any natural maternal instinct. Her expectations of Anne were greater than Matthew's and her punishments for failure to meet those expectations were also harsher. Jackie Holt portrayed Marilla and she did a nice job of maintaining that stony countenance (think Mercedes McCambridge as Luz Benedict in Giant) though some dropped lines seemed to affect her ability to stay in character. I also had a hard time understanding some of her lines due to the speed with which she delivered them.
Speaking of dropped lines, it seemed to be a trend with some of the neighbor ladies and townspeople, and the dropped lines really interrupted the flow of the story. In that same vein, there were a few technical glitches (i.e. the soundtrack cutting out for several bars near the end of "Providence"=85at least I don't think that portion was supposed to be a cappella).
Jana Offut played Miss Stacy the children's school teacher who went the distance by trying to help the children pursue their dreams. Ms. Offut offered the best vocal performance of the show during "The Bend in the Road" and she was one of the most comfortable actors on the stage. Her character was pleasant and cheerful and it was apparent she cared deeply for her charges.
I've noticed that most of the time I see a show my overall take on the show is driven by individual performances =96 whether or not I favored so-and-so's portrayal of Fanny Brice or Atticus Finch or Trix the Aviatrix. This show was different, however, in that I bought into the story and the music immediately. Some of the acting could be improved upon but that could be tailored for future productions of this piece. It's hard to fix a story when it's bad, though. Luckily, Anne of Green Gables The Musical did not fall into that category.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES THE MUSICAL
Artisan Center Theater, 418 E. Pipeline Road, Hurst,TX 76053
Runs through July 30th
Shows are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:30pm with Saturday matinees at 11:30 am and 3:00 pm
Tickets can be purchased online at www.artisanct.com or by calling the box office at 817-284-1200.