Peggy Sue Dunigan

Green Gables

By - Apr 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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The Green Gables were perfectly pitched on the set of First Stage Children’s Theater as they opened a musical version of the L.M. Montgomery classic novel Anne of Green Gables this past weekend. The book, music and lyrics, all penned by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, do both literally and figuratively sing on stage from the first notes of “Have you ever seen such red hair?”

Milwaukee’s well-known Richard Carsey was musical director along with Alissa Rhode and together the two skillfully integrated the score into the script. The melodies of the songs “Providential” and “A Dress with Puffy Sleeves” are two of the memorable selections, which were all well executed by the ensemble. Easing the beloved Anne Shirley through her teenage years during the 1900s in music is a formidable task, but both the production and the cast carry her with considerable charm.

From the moment 14-year-old Jenna Wolfsohn steps on stage as Anne saying, “Anne looks so much more distinguished with an e,” she creates a character to embrace. As she finds her place among the people of Prince Edward Island in Avonlea, the music underscores her trials, including the death of Matthew in the second act. Her outspoken nature is clearly captured. By combining her talents with veterans Linda Stephens (Marilla Cuthburt) and Michael Duncan (her brother Matthew) a family is created during the performance that remains ever true to the love that abounds when an orphan finds a home.

The Gables Cast, many of whom are First Stage Academy Students, includes standout performances by Kendall Iris Yorkey as Diana and Alex Miller as Gilbert. The Academy often jump starts the careers of these young actors, as Alex will be heading off to college auditions to pursue a BFA in musical theater. Corinne Kenwood, as Minnie Mae, was thrilled to be making her First Stage debut. The entire ensemble was an asset to the production as they walked the aisles of the Todd Wehr Theater in chorus or executed clever choreography around the outskirts of the delightful set. Members of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra were the distinguished three-piece orchestra, which accompany this polished presentation.

Since “Anne of Green Gables” has just entered public domain, now free from copyrights, several versions are in production around the country, including one currently in New York. This two-hour version, adeptly directed by John Maclay, moves quickly and smoothly, enchanting even the smallest members in the audience. At the end the ensemble sings, “Dreams are made of perfectly happy thoughts, and perfectly happy thoughts do come true.” First Stage’s Green Gables is an evening of dreams come true, especially for those children who dream of stepping on a stage. A perfect way to remember the Anne of Green Gables from childhood. VS

Green Gables by First Stage Children’s Theater is presented in the Todd Wehr Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through April 22. Tickets: 414-273-7206.

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