The kind of tal­ent you can’t take your eyes off

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - Colm Mag­ner Colm Mag­ner, who is a mem­ber of the Cana­dian Theatre Crit­ics Association, has worked as a play­wright, ac­tor, direc­tor and teacher for more than 30 years. His col­umn, In the Wings, will ap­pear reg­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer. To reach Colm, email i

Re­viewer Colm Mag­ner says Anne of Green Gables-The Mu­si­cal has a strong cast, par­tic­u­larly AJ Bridel as Anne.

There’s a char­ac­ter in lit­er­a­ture and lore called The Green Man, whose fe­male equiv­a­lent would likely be Sheela-na-Gig. They em­body the life force, the wild side of hu­man na­ture. Wild­ness also hap­pens to be the most com­pelling trait in a char­ac­ter in Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture known as Anne Shirley.

If you thought these three were merely fic­tional be­ings, then you need to get down to the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre to see the per­for­mance of a young woman named AJ Bridel, whose per­for­mance of Anne in Anne of Green Gables-The Mu­si­cal is a les­son in what tal­ent and gen­eros­ity can do in a theatre. It’s the kind of tal­ent you can’t take your eyes off of be­cause, like all real act­ing, it’s a kind of con­trolled pos­ses­sion.

This pro­duc­tion is lit­er­ally over­flow­ing with tal­ent – Ge­orge Mass­wohl’s Matthew is a per­fect gen­tle gi­ant; Susan Hen­ley’s Mar­illa is a grace­ful soul, full of nu­ance; Aaron Hastelow has real pres­ence as Gil­bert; Katie Kerr gets a wellde­served round for her drunken Diana; and, in fact, the good per­for­mances are too nu­mer­ous to men­tion.

So what hap­pened since last year? Why the turn­around? Well per­form­ers can shine only when guided by care­ful di­rec­tion. Direc­tor Adam Bra­zier, through very hard work, suc­ceeds in prov­ing that this story of an or­phaned girl who “comes from away” onto a charm­ing, but some­times rather parochial, Is­land is still rel­e­vant (and it turns out, cur­rent).

While there have been im­prove­ments to the set (the sim­ple use of flats and a good light­ing de­signer cre­ate in­ti­macy in a large space), this year’s success is more due to the fact that there is a co­he­sive vi­sion, and small mo­ments have been given the care they de­serve. The brief fu­neral scene af­ter the death of Matthew, barely lit and im­bued with the sound of rain, was one of a num­ber of mo­ments which showed a ma­tur­ing direc­tor con­fi­dent enough to use si­lence as it needs to be used in the cre­ation of good theatre.

Robin Calvert’s imag­i­na­tive chore­og­ra­phy breathes new life into many mu­si­cal num­bers, but more vi­tal and in­te­gral to my ex­cite­ment about this par­tic­u­lar

pro­duc­tion is that there are mo­ments that are al­most slightly, dare I say, sub­ver­sive. I’m sure I saw a few Green Men on­stage on open­ing night, and Bridel’s Anne is not merely bright and mis­chievous, she’s a lit­tle dan­ger­ous, im­bued with the kind of en­ergy that small­minded men find fright­en­ing in women. That’s what makes her ir­re­sistible, and that’s why it’s easy to be­lieve Gil­bert’s pas­sion for her. Her Anne also changes and ma­tures through­out the per­for­mance.

Act 2 could still use some edit­ing. It’s sim­ply not crafted as well as Act 1 and in­cludes sub­plot that would not be missed. But what I found most sur­pris­ing is that this is the same mu­si­cal score I crit­i­cized last year. How could that be? Well, the ad­di­tion of a cou­ple of real hu­mans play­ing in­stru­ments in the orches­tra pit is likely part of the rea­son the score sounds “new” (was that a real horn I felt tin­gle in my belly?); Bob Foster’s mu­si­cal di­rec­tion and the play­ing of the orches­tra adds an­other layer of depth; and I be­lieve there have been changes in ap­proach. But why truly did it sound so much bet­ter?

Well, it’s be­cause when ev­ery­thing be­gins to co­here, the en­tire pro­duc­tion be­gins to res­onate and takes on a life if its own.

At the cen­tre of this par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence is Bridel as Anne — a mo­men­tar­ily green-haired girl who lights a lit­tle wild­fire in this theatre that you re­ally shouldn’t miss.


AJ Bridel plays Anne in Anne of Green Gables - The Mu­si­cal.

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