CLEARFIELD — All right, to clear some things up. Yes, I am male. Yes, I have at least watched the movie of Anne of Green Gables. I have older sisters and these things happen to lots of younger brothers, and more of us should admit it. So yes, I think I saw all the sequels, too. Which provides me some background to review Anne of Green Gables: The Musical being produced by Clearfield Community Theater. Now, of course, one medium is not the other. However, despite the nostalgic value of creating a musical out of these now classic books and movies, it perhaps should not have been ventured. The script and music were lackluster and repetitive, and unfortunately the production did not help overcome these basic problems.
The foremost problem that plagued this and any other production was a poorly written book by Donald Harron. The general gist was the same for those familiar with the book: Anne (spelled with an e) arrives in Avonlea instead of the boy that brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, were expecting. Anne receives a scholarship to Queen’s College, and she must decide if she should go. While most of the classic moments were available in the script, the songs (by Norman Campbell) almost never added the depth of emotion or even a truly memorable tune. For example, I really did not need 3 to 5 songs about the town gossiping. I understood – the first time. As for the text, I just hoped most of it was Anne talking in typical Anne Shirley fashion, because otherwise, it was mostly bland.
But I could have still enjoyed myself if the choreography, the acting, or other key factors were exemplary. However, the choreography (uncredited in the program) and blocking (from director Wendy Oltmanns) failed to find interesting ways to use the large cast of all ages to create interesting stage pictures. Also, it felt as if the actors were still unsure as to the exact movements required and the dedication to make a scene work. The ensemble consisted of two characters: children and gossips, with almost no real distinction between each individual character or their own story. The evening was also plagued by speaker and microphone issues causing constant buzzing or difficulty hearing the actors in the outdoor amphitheater, though the sound designer (Derek Walden) did try valiantly to try to compensate with other actors microphones with varied success. The set design (by Derek Walden) was very functional given the limits of the outdoor stage that didn’t provide anywhere for things to hide or come on from offstage for different scenes. The half gazebo center stage, the house at Green Gables complete with a second story stage right, and a school room stage left allowed for the necessary flow of scenes. However, the painting for the outdoors and school were basically all gray with no texture, with a only few added trees or bookcases.
Clearfield Community Theater is another company blessed to have a live orchestra. This was an improvement over stock sound recordings, but the musicians (under the direction of Megan Cash) seemed to have consistent tuning problems. While I wasn’t impressed with the score overall, if done very well it would have been more pleasant. Attention to improving any of these to a quality level will cover for many other flaws. But the disagreeable sound made it much more difficult to forgive a flawed script and uninspired score.
Anne would not let me continue to go on like this without promptly breaking a slate over my head. There many hopeful facets of the production that should receive attention as well. Some ensemble standouts were Tiffany Caldwell as Mrs. Blewett, who did wonderful as the blunt and stressed housewife of 7 children under 6 (3 sets of twins!) who almost adopts Anne. Caldwell had a unique character that provided a wonderful dynamic that made her scene interesting to watch. Rachel Duncan as Josie Pie fearlessly belted her parts in “Did You Hear?” providing a lot of stage presence for the young performer. Sal Duncan as Mrs. Rachel Lynde did well with a poor script as the head gossip and an opinionated but valiant friend to Marilla. The inspirational Miss Stacy by Valerie Claussen provided an enthusiastic change of pace to the show and did well with jazzy parts of the her song “Open the Window,” helping to emphasize the new world that she was creating for Anne and the other children. Finally, Anne’s “kindred spirit” friend Diana (Zoe Newman) was a sweet addition whose scene of becoming accidentally drunk on currant wine was delightfully funny. Newman also perfectly complimented Anne to make a fun and honest friendship on stage.
Luckily, the clear standout of the evening was Sarah Hawkes as Anne. Hawkes had a clear voice that didn’t power through the songs, but did help bring out all of her emotions. Her bearing and speech brought to life the imaginative and determined teenager. Because of Hawkes, Anne’s endless hope is apparent in her expressions of love for the Snow Queen, and Hawkes brilliantly performs the best fitting song in the whole show, “Oh, Mrs. Lynde” with all the honest melodramatics that make Anne such an endearing character. This transferred over to her speech, where truly the best parts of the evening is hearing Hawkes embody all of Anne’s wit and imagination.
I will always love and encourage community theater. While this manifestation of the town of Avonlea has its faults, it is clear that it is a community that loves the people in it. Clearfield embraced that to bring their community together to enjoy the wonderful and inspiring character of Anne Shirley. I think that if they follow Anne’s persistence into future productions they will succeed to create better quality with time.