Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Avonlea, We Love Thee..."

I love musicals. As most reading this probably realize, I love Anne of Green Gables. There's an entity that combines these two elements, which I somehow hadn't seen until this weekend at the Wheelock Family Theatre.

Most of my curiosity rested on how the novel-to-musical adaptation would work. If the novel has a flaw, it's pacing, which makes some sense given its origin as a Sunday school serial. But would the play have time and scenery to include the novel's rushed-through Queen's College years? The answer was no, but the script conflates Queens and Redmond Colleges so as to include Anne and Gilbert's scholarship rivalry without leaving Avonlea. It has other little tricks as well to fit in as many of the memorable episodes as possible without being four hours long. Reactions to one incident become responses to another. Anne doesn't walk a ridgepole, but mentions in song that she fell off a roof over the summer. There's no Unfortunate Lily Maid scene, but that's quite understandable for reasons of staging, pacing, and context for an audience perhaps unfamiliar with Tennyson.

And what of the songs? They're joyful enough, and some are perfect; "Oh, Mrs. Lynde!" precisely captures Anne's overwrought apology. Others feel more arbitrary, chosen as song-worthy points only because a lot of the characters are onstage; a song seems to be the only way to signal a transition into or out of school. Overall, the dialogue is much more fun and much funnier, which makes sense since it's the closest to what's in the novel. The script wisely keeps L.M. Montgomery's characterization mostly intact in both the lifted and invented lines. My one quibble is that Matthew becomes comfortable with Anne too quickly, which takes something away from the deliciously awkward buggy scene; he should be mumbling "well now," while marveling at Anne's imagination, not crowing about it.

The WFT did a really impressive, well-cast production. Child actors seemed professional (one well-handled giggle fit notwithstanding). Anne was spot-on, and managed to successfully kick off Slategate despite dropping the slate before it made contact with Gilbert's head. Mrs. Lynde was appropriately haughty. A few characters were played differently than I'd imagined them (beyond the colorblind casting), but that became an exercise in how lines I'd always pictured one way could work another way. Gilbert came off as smarmy at first, but that succeeded in emphasizing his teasing and make Anne's long-held grudge toward him more understandable. Marilla was warmer than the smile-rusty-from-long-disuse character I'd imagined, but every single line worked - she just seemed to be scolding Anne more knowingly rather than being thrown by her shenanigans.

I'm up to Anne's House of Dreams on the Librivox audio recordings. Let the renewed Anne kick continue!


  1. You've just inspired me to add Rilla of Ingleside to my 're-reading' list - I'm sure it says something about me that this is my most favorite book of the series?

  2. Oh, I love Rilla. She's really different from Anne and LMM's Emily, which surprised me on first read, but I love how much she grows within the novel.