BWW Interview: Ali Ewoldt Explains Her Lessons Learned from ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
Anne Shirley is coming to the stage!
Royal Family Productions, a Times Square based non-profit theatre company known for its innovative productions and development of new original work, will soon present the the World Premiere of Anne of Green Gables: Part I (January 24-February 11), as well as a workshop presentation of Anne of Green Gables: Part II (January 31 - February 10).
Based on Lucy Maud Montgomery's beloved novel, this production is adapted and directed by Chris Henry with choreography by Lorna Ventura and led by Ali Ewoldt (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables) in Part I and Doreen Montalvo (On Your Feet, In the Heights) in Part II.
Anne of Green Gables is a one-woman, movement-fueled, theatrical experience for all-ages, featuring dynamic choreography. Part I shares the journey of Anne Shirley; an imaginative, red-headed, hot-tempered, eleven-year-old orphan, and what happens when she is accidentally brought to the home of quiet siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert in Prince Edward Island. Part II continues the journey with Anne as she navigates her new life in Avonlea - by going to school, making new friends, and trying to control her temper.
Ewoldt just checked in with BroadwayWorld to tell us all about the new production. Check out the full interview below!
Where are you in the process right now?
We have a couple of days off before we start tech. We actually had a rehearsal last night but today and tomorrow we're free and they're rehearsing the second part, Anne Part II, which is a different cast.
I know that you are the star of Part I. What can you tell me about your half of the project?
Part I they actually did last summer, so this is the second time that it is happening. The first time was sort of a workshop and this is a little bit more fleshed out. Part II is in the developmental stages, hence the different casts and they've got a slightly shorter rehearsal period. But Part I is this sort of amazing - you know, they're calling it a one-woman show, but of course I have four amazing dancers with me the whole time who are helping to tell this story. We basically tell the first chunk of the novel, the first bit of Anne's story, and I speak the words of all of the characters and the dancers kind of help me to show who's speaking when or embody the emotions of the characters, especially Anne. We've got some amazing movement moments that really capture Anne's imagination and her sense of emotion and all of that. It's really beautiful. Because I'm the only one speaking all of the part, it's a very creative telling of the story, while maintaining all of the heart and the parts of the story that everybody loves. It's also a blackbox kind of space with just a big platform on it. It's beautiful silks and some projections and some music and a lot of room for the imagination.
It seems like movement is a big part in helping to tell the story...
Yes, exactly. Lorna Ventura, our choreographer, is just brilliant and phenomenal and she has these amazing dancers. I'm sort of amongst them and they lift me up or there're some nightmare sequences. We're really exploring the abuse that Anne must have experienced before she got to Green Gables and that effect on her and her life and why it's been so important that she finally finds a home. It gets me every time. It's so funny - I grew up on books and the miniseries and even still, just like the heart of the story is sort of, gut-wrenching and moving. Even being a part of it and saying all the words, it still kind of shakes me how really powerful the whole story is.
This isn't being performed as a musical, is it?
It's not. There's no singing, which is really exciting for me. I think there's always that thing as a musical theatre performer to be asked to do something where you don't have to sing. It's like the pinnacle - or like "Really? You believe in my other skills? That's amazing." [Laughs]
That's got to be pretty cool.
Yeah, it's really great. It's really fun to explore storytelling in this other way and to not necessarily have to worry about singing. So, yeah - it's a play. It's a play with movement and music, I would say.
You said that you grew up on the books. Did you go back and look at any of the original material?
Oh, absolutely. You know, it's interesting - I had just started watching the new Netflix series, Anne with an E, right before I began and I found that I had to stop because I was afraid that all of their performances - all being amazing actors in that series - would sort of embed themselves in me in a way that wasn't helpful for me and I felt the same about the miniseries. I know it so well, but I thought that if I went back to watch it I would just be doing Megan Follows' version of Anne and Colleen Dewhurst's Marilla. So instead I went back to the book, which is amazing.
Our play is taken directly from the novel. Chris Henry basically pulled almost all of our text from the novel directly. But, that that also happened with both the miniseries and this new series in the first chunk. The new TV show obviously goes off on it's own direction and the miniseries does too, but the very first bit - the text is almost exactly what it is in the novel, which I think is amazing - that LM Montgomery really wrote this amazing piece that nobody wanted to change because it was so perfect, kind of, as it was. And it's been fun to revisit the novel too, because of the amazing descriptions in it of Anne, of Prince Edward Island... Of course, I read it again and I was like "I need to go to this place!" It sounds like the most beautiful place on the face of the planet. So, it's been really fun to get back into the book and remember why this story was so compelling to me as a kid.
Is it fun getting to portray someone with such a youthful spirit?
Yes! She has this amazing moment where we sort of enact this nightmare that she had where she was sent back to the asylum or to taking care of all of these children and all of the hardships she's experienced in her life. Then the rooster crows and she pops right up and she's like, "I'm so glad it's a sunshine-y morning." She sort of like has this amazing ability to withstand whatever hardships that come in her way with an incredible honestly. I find that that's so inspiring, just to even like speak her words. Like, "Oh, we can be optimistic even when things look tough."
Why do you think that this is a story that really hits home and resonates with people?
You know, I think a lot of it is about Anne and how, like I was saying, she's this amazingly smart, resilient, kind of other character. People see her at first and they don't know what to make of her and they've got their own prejudices about where she's come from and that she's different and she somehow manages to embed herself in this world and teach everybody things. I think that that's a lesson that the world can continually be taught - that just because things are different doesn't mean that they don't have amazing things to bring to the table and can teach us all of these new things. So, I think there's something really incredible about the story that way and watching Anne's effect on all of the people around her and watching her grow up and get to experience what it's like to have a home, what it's like to have a friend, what it's like to have all of these things that many of us take for granted everyday, but that she really finds a way to appreciate, is a really compelling thing to get to watch.
You're also coming at this following a pretty significantly long run in The Phantom of the Opera, right?
About two and a half years!
Is it nice to get to sink your teeth into something new after doing Christine for so long?
It really is. It's awesome to have a new challenge and this sort of is as different as different can be in terms of scope. What's so unique about this project for me is that not only am I playing, sort of, like the young ingenue - right, like Anne is eleven so obviously I'm not Anne - but she does have that youthful positivity that I've gotten to embody in character's like Christine, or Cosette, or Maria. But I also get to play Marilla, who is, like, no nonsense, strict and strong and very practical and Matthew, this giant walking heart, who's shy and doesn't quite know how to navigate his way in the world. But I also get to play the villainous characters, like the nosy Mrs. Lynde, or Mrs. Blewett, who's terrifying. It's so fun to get to play all different types kind of simultaneously and explore those different sides of my personality or of just like my artistic ability that way.
Anne of Green Gables will begin performances on January 24th - February 11, 2019 with an opening night set for Monday, January 28 at 6:30pm. And a workshop presentation of Anne of Green Gables: Part II (January 31 - February 10). Both shows will be performed at The Royal Family Performing Arts Space located at 145 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036. Tickets for Part I are $29 - $59, $250 (VIP). Tickets for Part II are $19 - $39. All tickets can be purchased by visiting www.royalfamilyproductions.org
Ali recently completed more than two years as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. She made her Broadway debut as Cosette in Les Miserables, a role she also played on the National Tour, and appeared in Lincoln Center's recent Tony Award Winning revival of The King and I. Ali has played Maria in numerous productions of West Side Story across the nation and the world, including in Houston on the 2009 Broadway Revival's 1st National Tour. Her other credits include: The Fantasticks (Luisa) Off-Broadway, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Philia) at The Muny in St. Louis, Lyric Opera of Chicago's The King and I (Tuptim), and McCarter Theatre's A Christmas Carol (Fan/Mrs. Bonds). Ali performed her solo concert at Feinstein's/54 Below in New York and has sung in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, The Town Hall and at Canyon Ranch. Her symphony work includes The NY Pops Carnegie Hall at Carnegie Hall, The American Pops Orchestra, The Houston Symphony and The Boston Pops with Maestro Keith Lockhart. Ali's TV/Film credits include "The Michael J. Fox Show," "Yield, Drama: The Web Series" and the short film Mia. She has a BA in psychology from Yale University. www.aliewoldt.com
Photo Credit: Russ Rowland (rehearsal images)