Anne & Gilbert at The Guild!

Anne & Gilbert: The Musical
Music by Bob Johnston and Nancy White
Book by Jeff Hochhauser
Lyrics by Nancy White, Bob Johnston and Jeff Hochhauser
Orchestrations by Tom Leighton & Bob Johnston

Runs until October 13th at The Guild Theatre (Charlottetown)

~ Review by Mo Duffy Cobb 

Photo by Alanna Jankov
When you arrive at the Guild Theatre in Charlottetown these days, you’re entering the world of Green Gables. Birch trees stretch up towards the sky and one could almost swear that they sway in the breeze. The green schoolhouse stands centre stage, with the church and homesteads (their windows decorated with dainty lace) in the distance. When the schoolhouse door flies opens, the children of Avonlea rush out as they burst into song. Welcome back!

Everyone knows the story of Anne of Green Gables, the red haired orphan who gets adopted by the Cuthbert family of Green Gables, winning the hearts of the villagers of Avonlea. Lucy Maud has written the tale into the hearts of millions through her books, and has further inspired film, song and dance. We know about Anne’s dreaminess, her passion, her zeal. We know about the time she and Diana drink the cordial, the time she dyes her hair green, and how she longs to be called the Lady Cordelia. But most of all, we know about Gilbert Blythe and the first day of school, when he calls Anne  “Carrots” and she breaks the slate over his head in a fit of rage. Many a love story have started there.

David Malahoff and Campbell Webster’s production of Anne and Gilbert is a story close to our hearts; Anne is practically a distant cousin! The leads of this production (Patrick Cook as Gilbert and Ellen Denny as Anne) both give strong performances and their onstage chemistry is magical. 

The story takes off where Anne of Green Gables ends: the autumn after high school graduation. Thanks to Gilbert, Anne Shirley has secured a position as a teacher at Avonlea School, where she balances both the school children and her old classmate and chum, Josie Pie (Brieonna Locche). 

Photo by Alanna Jankov
Song by song, the audience is brought into the play’s main conflict, “Gilbert Loves Anne of Green Gables”. The large choral scenes of fiddle players, boys doing somersaults and girls step dancing immediately send the audience into a whirling spin, and children laugh, delighted. Our leading lady, Anne, however, has her doubts. She spends her free time writing short stories about her own heroines, carried away by love, and has no time for poor Gilbert, much to the attempts of Diana (Brittany Banks) and Marilla (Caroll Godsman) to change her mind. The smitten young Gilbert does his damndest to woo the frosty Anne because as he says, “There’s always hope.”

I loved that the show was full of touching, intimate moments between the audience and the characters who bear their souls in songs like Anne’s “Someone Handed Me the Moon” and Marilla’s heart-wrenching “When He Was My Beau”. Other songs resonated with me as an Islander, like the foot-stomping “You’re Island Through and Through” (it made me want to go to a barn dance); and the hilarious lyrical comedy of “Polishing Silver,” to which every couple in the audience could relate and the laughs came fast and furious. The musical score alone is worth the price of admission.

Memorable characters are Rachel Lynde, played by Margot Sampson, who sits under heavy purple velvet in a fancy hat, chattering about the townspeople but wise in her ways; and Moody MacPherson, a fiddle player played by Aaron Crane. Both characters were able foils to the intensity of Anne and Gilbert, creating comic relief on a number of occasions. 

A lovely addition to the scenes is a large screen backdrop, which plays on shadows and times of day, adding gentle winds, butterflies, or even rain or snow. 

Anne & Gilbert touches the heartstrings and melts the audience in this beautiful love story. Each audience member becomes a ‘kindred spirit’, as we are reminded of our own love stories and the revelations that steered our own narratives of passion and tenderness. But whether we be young or old, Anne & Gilbert has something for everyone.

The Guild Theatre in Charlottetown is hosting the 2013 PEI production of Anne & Gilbert - The Musical. The show runs until October 13, with shows Tuesday to Sunday.

Reviewer Mo Duffy Cobb lives in Charlottetown and is a ferocious writer, an English teacher and a student of Creative Nonfiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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