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Charlottetown

The Enduring Appeal of Anne of Green Gables

Ellen Denny and Patrick Cook star in Anne & Gilbert—the Musical in Charlottetown, PEI

Ellen Denny and Patrick Cook star in Anne & Gilbert—the Musical, which finds Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved character as a teen whose passions now flow a different way.
JOHN MASTERS/Meridian Writers’ Group

YOU’D THINK THE world would be sick of Anne Shirley by now. Far from it.

The plucky heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables, still sells books (over 80 million total, in 36 languages) and brings thousands of visitors to Prince Edward Island each year to see the green-gabled house in Cavendish, the farm community on which the book’s Avonlea was based.

Meanwhile, the musical version of Anne of Green Gables continues to fill the 1,100-seat auditorium at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts each summer, as it has done since 1964. Having pushed past its 50th anniversary season it’s now in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest running annual production.

Part of its success can be ascribed to the same thing that’s kept the book in print for over a century: the appeal of the red-haired orphan with a fiery temper, strong opinions and a massive imagination who lands in a drab, buttoned-down small community, with each eventually benefitting from the other.

There’s also the charm of Prince Edward Island: people come for the beaches, the red soil, the largely-still-rural nature of life here, not so different from Anne’s day, and for Charlottetown’s well-preserved historical downtown, including the building where the Fathers of Confederation met in 1864, setting in motion the wheels that led to the birth of Canada. And while we’re here, why not see the play?

Adam Brazier, the artistic director of the Charlottetown Festival, which produces the Anne musical, thinks there’s more to it than that, though. “The piece is enduring,” he says. “It stands up. Anne of Green Gables—the Musical is akin to Oklahoma or Carousel or any other great, classical musical of that generation.” Quite aside from the story, Brazier thinks people come to see it because of this “classical” nature: “You require great dancers, strong singers and marvellous actors,” he says. “Today, we don’t like that...we don’t have shows that emphasize this skill set.” Most modern musicals, he notes, have four or five actors and a three-piece band. Anne has 24 actors and a 13-piece orchestra.

As it happens, though, Anne can play small as well as large. Across the street from the centre a former bank has become a 145-seat black-box theatre, the Guild. In it, since 2013, Anne & Gilbert—the Musical has been playing. Based on the second and third Anne novels, it picks up the story from where the bigger show leaves off, following the budding romance between Anne, now in her teens, and Gilbert Blythe, who met Anne when she broke a slate board over his head. The small space makes it a very different experience for the audience. “Sometimes it’s like a film,” says co-producer David Malahof. “You’re so close you can see the actors’ eyes.”

Two redheads, two shows, still no sign of Anne fatigue. Apparently, it’s just as Matthew Cuthbert sings it: “Anne of Green Gables, never change, we like you just this way.”

 

ACCESS

For more information on Anne of Green Gables—the Musical visit www.charlottetownfestival.com.

For more information on Anne & Gilbert—the Musical visit www.anneandgilbert.com.

For information on travel on Prince Edward Island visit the Tourism PEI website at www.tourismpei.com.