Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Considering that this show dates from an Off-Broadway run in 2007, and the obvious family friendliness of it, I initially found it surprising that none of our three large community theater companies have produced it before this. After seeing it, I understand why. The storytelling plods along, one plot incident after another, none of the songs is able to take off and soar, and the whole affair fails to hold audience interest. Cryer and Ford are the authors of I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, which produced a song I would consider one of the greatest story songs ever, "Old Friends." Unfortunately, nothing in Anne of Green Gables suggests that level of talent.
Manatee Players give the show a decent production, not up to the best that typically lights up their stage. Emma Devine is Anne, very effective as the young teenager, even more so as she blossoms into a young adult. Alex Topp is Matthew Cuthbert, warm and paternal, and Meg Newsome is his sister Marilla, who grows to cherish Anne. Brooke Bellina is delightfully girlish as Anne's only friend, Diana Berry; Anja Schwarzbauer as Mary Jo and Prissy Andrews and Pamela Troncoso as Josie Pye contribute other juvenile portrayals. Newcomer Gabriel Welch cuts a handsome figure and sings well as Anne's love/hate interest, Gilbert Blythe. Jo Davidsmeyer (Rachel Lynde) and Laura Hoffman (Mr. Berry), along with Craig Engle, Joe Eckstein, and Mark Eichorn as various townspeople make up the supporting cast.
Steve Dawson seems to be better as a performer than as a director, his role here. I have very fond memories of performances as Sweeney Todd and Harold Hill, among many others, but his past directing assignments have not been as memorable. He has not inspired great performances from his past casts, and I wonder if a different director might have breathed more life into this less than perfect musical. The sets by Caleb Carrier are minimal but effective, the projections, also by Mr. Carrier, are more than that, allowing us to imagine the lush maritime country. Costumes by Matt Myers set the time period well, but are not as eye popping as the best this theater is capable of. Lighting design by Ethan Vail is fine. A little note of caution: I noticed sound gremlins creeping back into the vicinity, some that must not be allowed to happen, since it took two full seasons and more to rid them from Stone Hall when it first opened.
Perhaps Anne of Green Gables will appeal more to kids, especially of the female persuasion, which has always been the main audience for the classic children's books. I wish that the authors had done a better job getting this story onto the stage.
Manatee Players' Anne of Green Gables, through September 30, 2018, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit manateeplayers.com.