Review by Danny Gaisin
“Little Women”; “Nancy Drew”; “Anne of Green Gables”; back in my youth all these were something no self-respecting boy would dare to read. So, an invite to see Montgomery’s century-old story about a Nova Scotia orphan and her resettlement in P.E.I. promised to be a rectification of this glaring omission in my life experiences. Meadowvale Music Theatre and its director Renee Belforte are presenting the musical adaptation by Don Harron & Norman Campbell at Mississauga’s Montevideo venue. To this scribe, nothing can ever equal Harron’s creative ‘Rumpleforeskin’ entry at a Toronto Fringe, but Anne with an E is almost as much fun.
The tale iterates a young girl sent as live-in assistance to an older fraternal couple who are expecting a male. She certainly ain’t; but Matthew Cuthbert is rather taken with her spunk (“You’ve got spunk…I hate spunk”, Lou Grant-‘72, MTM) and works to convince his sister Marilla, to give the kid a chance. She does. Anne beguiles herself into the neighbourhood; and lives happily, & song/dance-fully ever after.
It’s a good thing that Meredith Busteed’s Anne is so potent because the duo of Doug Feggans & Sharon Nimmo as the Cuthbert sibs is so strong and dynamic that the show might otherwise be “The Cuthberts of Green Gables”. There is an obvious chemistry between all three. The scenes between Anne and the avuncular Matthew are warm and realistic; Busteed’s winning over the more reticent Marilla is convincing and credible. All three sing, and while Feggans voice isn’t exactly operatic; he’s able to give an acceptable Rex Harrison-ish ‘Henry Higgins’ to his ‘Humble Pie’ duet with Anne. The almost-opening number features an intricate trio with different lyrics and pace that is so well-directed and performed that it augurs the cast will certainly overcome any thespian challenges ahead.
There is major support from the more marginal roles. Kelsey Faulkner (Diane Barry) possesses a marvellous voice that has all the clarity and range of something professionally trained. Her support of Anne’s early integration to the community and especially School will touch all of us who relied on buddies to grease our own acceptances. Another vocal talent belongs to the teacher Miss Stacy. Mandy Meisner brings not only a facial but choral smile to her solo & ensemble numbers. The town’s ladies are plausible as actors and as interpreters of pre-feminism circa 1906, both in style and mannerism. Wearing authentic costumes further enhances the imagery. Another standout vocalist is Emily Norman who also happens to be eye candy and a delightfully voguish mannerism.
The chorus ensemble seems to begin dancing at the slightest instant. The choreography is intense and demanding, and given the obvious enthusiasm the kids encompass, their numbers are especially fun to watch. The ‘Ice Cream’ bit had the line-up for frozen bars during interval double the norm! Their pace is hectic; filled with way too much flouncing but enthusiastically performed. There are too many to individually mention; but all are deserving of approval. The orchestra support arranged & conducted by Raylin Marcotte makes a faultless contribution to this musical… she & they also add interval continuity during scene changes. ANNE and the Avonlea residents will be at MEADOWVALE until Feb. 26th.