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Finally, it’s “summertime…and the living is easy.” After a long, cold winter and a very wet spring, the heat of the summer has arrived and with it the summer festivals and summer theatres that occur annually throughout Ontario. What better time could there be to take in a performance of Anne of Green Gables, the musical with lyrics by Don Harron and music by Norman Campbell about PEI’s most famous endearing and enduring fictional figure.
I made the trek to Gananoque and the Thousand Islands Playhouse not once but twice to take in the show. Enthralled as I was on the first visit last week, my wife and I immediately decided to return with my seven-year-old granddaughter. Despite the three hour drive each way, my granddaughter sat with eyes and ears affixed to the stage throughout. It captivated her as it did me and has done to countless audiences since it premièred at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts in 1965.
Larry Mannell (Matthew Cuthbert) and Emily Robertson (Anne Shirley) in Thousand Islands Playhouse production of Anne of Green Gables;
Photo credit, Randy deKleine-Stimpson
Unfortunately, summertime will end all too soon for Anne of Green Gables. The show runs until July 20th with 8 shows per week. The Thousand Islands Playhouse produces professional theatre from May to September. Following Anne of Green Gables, the play Glory (July 24-August 17) will take the audience back to 1933, the era of the Great Depression, to tell the incredible true story of the Preston Rivulettes – a women’s hockey team that forever changed the face of Canadian hockey.
School room scene in Thousand islands Playhouse production of Anne of Green Gables; Photo credit, Randy deKleine -Stimpson
Emily Robertson as Anne Shirley in Thousand islands Playhouse production of Anne
of Green Gables; Photo credit, Randy deKleine -Stimpson
According to Wikipedia, it is Canada’s longest-running annual musical theatre production and has been named ‘the longest-running annual musical theatre production in the world’ by Guiness World Records. It won the Drama Critic’s Award when it opened in London’s West End. Of course, there have been films and television series over the years, but the musical itself is the embodiment of what summer theatre entertainment can be.
The Thousand Islands Playhouse production has spared nothing within the physical limitations of a small theatre to bring Avonlea to life. Directed by Stephanie Graham, it is the largest show mounted by the Thousand Islands Playhouse in the past ten years with a total cast and creative staff of fifty including a 6-piece band skillfully arranged and directed by Music Director Chris Barillaro. The orchestral colours he got from just six performers always matched the spirit of the show. The sets by Sean Mulcahy included a movable ‘Green Gables’ that rotated to become the rail station, a painted back-drop of a PEI shoreline and a mechanical horse and buggy that ingeniously travelled across the stage carrying Anne (Emily Robertson) and Matthew (Larry Mannell) home to Avonlea. Costumes by Robin Fisher perfectly suited the turn of the century period of the show.
The musical depends on fine singing by the leads as well as a chorus of townspeople that gives abundant energy. There were no compromises here. The singing was in tune and well-balanced. The leads each had convincing well-trained voices. I was especially impressed by Jamie McRoberts (Miss Stacey/Mrs MacPherson), Kelsey Verzotti (Diana Barry) and Seanna Knudson (Josie Pye).
Emily Robertson as Anne Shirley was spectacular. She is indeed what is called in musical parlance a real “triple threat”. She carried the show as only Anne can with her sparkling energy and exaggerated expression. She sang and danced with flair and used her abundant energy to create an adorable and comedic ‘Anne’. I met up with Robertson after the show and her energy level was just as high as when she was on stage. She was still in character as she said hello to my granddaughter. I’m sure we will both remember that moment.
by David Richards
Toronto ON July 4th 2019
Anne of Green Gables at the Thousand Islands Playhouse: the perfect complement to summer
Picnic scene in Thousand islands Playhouse production of Anne of Green Gables; Photo credit: Randy deKleine -Stimpson
Others in the cast who impressed me included Marcia Tratt (Marilla Cuthbert) and Larry Mannell (Matthew Cuthbert). Both carried their roles to perfection – Marilla the domineering, disciplinarian and Matthew the loving and humble brother who couldn’t stand up to his sister. Both had very touching solos toward the end that brought tears to several audience members around me. Matthew’s song, ‘Anne of Green Gables’ is often spoken, but Mannell was able to convincingly sing it with conviction. Conor Scully (Gilbert Blythe) gave a convincing performance both in his dancing and singing parts. I particularly enjoyed his role in “Where Did the Summer Go To”.
There are several dance numbers in the show that require gymnastic flips and acrobatic moves to create the youthful energy of school children. Bravo to Stephanie Graham. I loved her choreography. The opening entrance of the gossiping towns people was especially clever as was the picnic scene that culminated in my personal favourite number ‘Ice Cream’.