Review: Anne of Green Gables The Musical (LOT)

Anne of Green Gables by Seanna KennedyThe Lower Ossington Theatre brings to life Canadian classic, now on stage in Toronto

Tonight at the Lower Ossington Theatre, a part of my childhood came alive during Anne of Green Gables The Musical. I’m an East Coast native who’s been to Prince Edward Island countless times. It’s where the story of a red-haired spitfire orphan named Anne Shirley – who comes to live with a hesitant-at-first family – is set. I’ve even been to the Green Gables house.

I, along with my companion Violet, were a bit concerned that we’d be resistant to a different Anne. In our minds, Megan Follows – who so thoroughly owned and embodied that role – is Anne Shirley. Luckily, we were mostly pleased with tonight’s Anne, and the show generally.

I was immediately impressed by the set, especially considering the relatively small size of the LOT. Having a house facade – with a fairly elaborate interior – which also functioned as a field, school yard, road, and general store was quite a feat. The crew and cast used the space very effectively.

The chorus was large, lively, and to my mind very talented. The main characters – Anne Shirley (Jayne Peters), Matthew (David Cairns) and Marilla Cuthbert (Lada Darewych), Diana Barry (Samantha Marineau), and Gilbert Blythe (Bryden Rutherford) – were equally enjoyable to watch. Especially Anne. Her performance was nuanced and yet dramatically embodied the spirit of Anne Shirley. I was not disappointed, though I have immediate plans to re-visit the movie version.

Mostly, Violet and I were entertained. I’m not a huge fan of musicals – I like them, but they’re not my first choice of genre – but this show had enough dialogue to keep my attention.

The seemingly all-White cast bothered me. With such a large chorus, there is so much room for diversity. I can understand some of the choices as they were so specifically described in the original story, but I see no reason not to be more inclusive with the rest of the roles.

An aspect that Violet and I both found took away from the show slightly were the choice of songs, namely which subjects were being sung about.

Rather than composing too-long songs for things like making ice cream, or an egg race, or the joys of learning from a new teacher, perhaps more about Anne herself, or the growth of her relationship with her “bosom buddy” Diana would have been nice? Anne of Green Gables is a meaty story, and the musical version felt to me like a slightly watered down Cliff notes version.

It also had a pretty long runtime – almost 3 hours including intermission – and that just made us resent the redundancy and length of some the music even more.

It’s hard to view it as a stand-alone to the books and movies because they are so much a part of my childhood. Someone who’s never seen the movie before may have a much different take on it. I am absolutely biased in this regard.

I will say, if you’re someone who’s attached to the books (beyond the first one) and movie and want to see that story in musical form, this isn’t really it. This show also doesn’t claim to cover more than the first book – while the movie version covers several.

If you just want to see a fun musical with impressive costumes and wigs, and/or want to introduce your kids to the story, Anne of Green Gables The Musical might be a great way to do that. It’s definitely a family-friendly show, with a couple of *winkwink* jokes for the grown-ups tossed in.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been singing my sentences ever since we left the theatre, much to Violet’s chagrin. Make of that what you will.

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Photo of Anne of Green Gables The Musical cast members by Seanna Kennedy