When I was growing up, the book Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery was one of my favorites. Actually, I still love it. The way Anne used her imagination appealed to me — I was always imagining things.
The talented team of Don Harron, Norman and Elaine Campbell, Alan Lund and Mavor Moore developed a musical based on the book. It is staged every summer in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island as part of the Charlottetown Festival. It has also toured Canada and elsewhere several times.
I had seen it on tour, but in 1982 a friend and I visited Prince Edward Island (usually abbreviated PEI). We spent a day touring some of the places Montgomery had in mind when she wrote the book — Green Gables House, Cavendish Beach, and other sites. Then we washed the red beach sand out of our hair and went down to Confederation Centre, where we delighted in the live performance of Anne of Green Gables, the Musical, in its home province. To quote Anne, it was “an epoch in my life.”
This year, the performance on July 1 will usher in the musical’s 50th season as part of the Charlottetown Festival. It has undergone some changes over the years, especially cast changes, as Annes, Dianas, Gilberts, Matthews, and Marillas have come and gone. It is still a delight to the eye and the ear, however. The songs still stay in your mind and your heart long after you’ve left the theatre.
If you’ve read the books, or have seen the television version of Anne, you’ll certainly recognize the story, although of course in a stage version there are necessary differences. There isn’t the time in a two hour stage production to cover everything in the book, and of course, you can’t do everything that you can on television when you’re on a fixed stage in front of a live audience.
However, the stage is still a wonderful place for Anne and her story! A great deal of the story is told through the songs, from the gossiping “Did you hear?” that tells the story of Anne breaking a slate over Gilbert’s head, with more and more embellishment with every telling, to the “Ice Cream” song during the school picnic (“Is anything more delectable?”), to the poignant “I Can’t Find the Words” that Marilla sings after her brother’s death. This video, uploaded to YouTube by the Confederation Centre will give you a tantalizing taste of a few of the songs.
There’s a website dedicated to the musical as it’s performed in Charlottetown. There you can read the history of the production, you can see photos of all the actresses who have portrayed Anne, you can see samples of the costumes and sets, there are Anne Facts and an Anne Fun Zone — there’s even a mobile app!
Many schools and community groups perform this musical — if your school or theatre is interested, the script, score, licensing — everything you need, except actors, costumes and sets! — are available through the theatre publisher Samuel French in New York.
Maybe someday you’ll be able to do as I did, and experience the musical in Charlottetown!