Goodspeed’s imperfect but fresh “Anne of Green Gables” offers a modern take on a classic – Hartford Courant

A bold new version of the Goodspeed Opera House’s farm-fresh children’s classic “Anne of Green Gables” reinterprets the story’s main relationships, adds some kicking dance and lots of chairs, and promotes the beautiful underlying theme of love and trust.

This “Anne of Green Gables – A New Musical” has a modern attitude, contemporary flair and a strong desire to lift the story from the bucolic country setting, frilly dresses and nostalgic old-world manners that have long limited it. removed in.

This children’s classic begins with a 1908 novel by LM Montgomery. Montgomery also wrote seven books about Anne Shirley and her adventures in Avonley and elsewhere. The characters she created have fueled dozens of TV, film and radio adaptations. There have been several stage musical releases before that, including one in the Prince Edward Island region of Canada, which entered the Guinness Book of Records for “longest annual musical production”.

Goodspeed has its version set for a world premiere, though the show was produced earlier in 2018 at the Rev Theater in Auburn, New York with the same director Jenn Thompson, choreographer Jennifer Jancuska, set designer Wilson Chin and music director Amanda Morton. (The music director leading the band here is Matthew Smedal.)

The show’s book and lyrics were written by Matte O’Brien, who wrote in an article on the show: “As a queer guy who grew up in a conservative town, I never felt like I belonged.” He Says he has an affinity for the character Anne Shirley: “She’s ‘the other’ in a way, just like me – like so many of us. We all have a sense of standing in the middle of a group or community. Feeling outside, looking inside, longing to be recognized, to have our values ​​recognized, to make connections.”

This is a fair assessment of the guiding principles of this adaptation. It focuses on the reaction of Anne Shirley (Juliette Ryden) as she is belittled, challenged, humbled and generally misunderstood by the citizens of Avanley, where she is taken as an orphan to a house owned by the nonsense Marilla The farm works Cuthbert (Sharon Catherine Brown) and her brother Matthew (DC Anderson).

One of Anne Shirley’s major friendships is with Diana Barry (Michelle Vintimira), whose career aspirations are derailed by her mother’s insistence on marrying and supporting a family. O’Brien’s script redefines the Annie/Diana relationship as potentially lesbian, adding romantic tension to scenes where young women are separated from each other.

The focus on raw, changing, and often conflicting real-world emotions means that some of the simple stereotypes of the original – “beautiful” girls, vainly handsome boys and all kinds of domineering and closed adults – have grown up Space. Several unlikely characters start singing about self-discovery and regret. The numbers include the soulful “Marilla’s Song,” a stunning reminder of the range of Sharon Kathryn Brown’s music and drama; and several different revelations for Gilbert Blythe (Pierre Marais) Song, the pretentious schoolboy finds himself fascinated by Anne Shirley, who has been eroding his self-confidence. The rousing “Make a Move,” sung by Aurelia Williams (playing brash elder Rachel Lynde), is a very upbeat performer about following one’s dreams, and it’s achieved through a strong R&B tape rather than sing-along. worked its magic.

Like O’Brien’s script and lyrics, composer Matt Vinson’s score makes a lot of cool choices. Scenes and songs that seem to be in love can turn out to be funny or angry. Speed ​​up or slow down. Expectations are challenged.

The sparse set and choreography are at odds with much of what traditionally happens on the Goodspeed stage. Chin’s landscape designs are abstract, bare rough wood, a whirling odd central platform and a slew of chairs. The preponderance of chairs can be seen as a recent theatrical trend (take the Broadway revival of “Purple” as an example), but it can also be recalled to the likes of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Inesco’s plays about isolation and social chaos.

Again, the music doesn’t fit the habit of the Goodspeed Pit Orchestra. An eight-piece orchestra, structured more like a pop band than a musical theatre orchestra, sits out of sight behind the stage backdrop rather than in the orchestra pit in front of the stage. The band was lively and loud, but calling it a rock musical or even the folk-pop musical described would be an understatement.

The show’s perspective, illuminating reordering of certain plotlines and characters, and uplifting soundtrack all help “Anne of Green Gables” stand out as a sharp reflection on a timeless coming-of-age story.

But this “Anne of Green Gables” also shows some growing pains. Throughout the scene, the stage and choreography are just trying to do anything to provide a visual context for the dialogue. They often detract from what is being discussed, rather than adding to what is being discussed. The dance is a great showcase for Jancuska’s unique dance style, which includes lots of squats, knee bends, and elbow thrusts. But many times it simply doesn’t fit the thoughtful introverted tone of the story or Thompson’s direction.

To make matters worse, the show has yet to find a clear and stable sound. It begins with an introductory song Annie sings about herself, and it tries to accomplish too much at once. The song, titled “Waiting,” portrays Annie as excitable, headstrong, and optimistic. It also delves into her backstory as an orphan. Then it suddenly becomes a song about the general concept of finding a home. There is a lot to absorb.

Shortly after opening too many, Anne suddenly stopped telling her story. Choir members begin to recite third-person narration. Later, it became the first person again. The lack of a consistent voice can be confusing and irritating. O’Brien and Vinson knew exactly what story they wanted to tell, but wouldn’t decide on the clearest way to tell it.

The show’s best songs are those in which the characters verbalize their inner monologues, the independent universal expressions that Broadway singers like to express in their cabaret shows of love or pain. The worst songs are the ones that have to deal with the exhibition, the ones that need to explain what Annie will do next while working under clumsy names like “Cuthbert”.

Anne of Green Gables is still largely a work in progress, like its powerful and fallible heroine. Like Anne, it aims to respect individuality, resist discrimination, and demonstrate the positive possibilities of a positive, open-minded society. Hope it finds its way.

“Anne of Green Gables: A New Musical” by Matte O’Brien and Matt Vinson will be performed at the Goodspeed Opera House at 6 Main Street, East Haddam on September 4th. Shows are Wednesday and Thursday at 2:30 and 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 and 6:30 pm Ticket prices are $30 to $80. goodspeed.org.

Christopher Arnott can be contacted at carnott@courant.com.

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