BWW Review: A Bold and Creative ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: A NEW FOLK ROCK MUSICAL Makes History at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
Broadway in the Finger Lakes is at it again in bringing a new and creative musical to audiences at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, a theatrical gem located in Auburn's beautiful Emerson Park. The new musical Anne of Green Gables: A new Folk Rock Musical comes to the theatre directly from four sold out performances in Broadway in the Finger Lakes' 2017 theatre series, The PiTCH. The production is modern and creative and the show is truly something special.
The new musical features a brilliant and detailed book and creative lyrics by Matte O'Brien, along with gorgeous music by Matt Vinson. Director Jenn Thompson has creatively staged a production that brings Lucy M. Montgomery's world-renowned novel to life. The focus, of course, is that brilliant and curious redhead orphan named Anne Shirley (Mckenzie Custin) coming to live on a family farm known as Green Gables. It is owned by two siblings, Matthew Cuthbert (D. C. Anderson) and Marilla Cuthbert (Nancy Anderson). The audience goes on a journey with Anne where she discovers friendship, family, a home, and a sense of belonging in the small country community of Avonlea.
The brand-new contemporary musical incorporates modern and bold choreography by Jennifer Jancuska. The choreography is intense, intricate, and intoxicating as performed by the supporting ensemble. Their role is not limited to just that though - they are the story-tellers portraying various townsfolk. These cast members each have their own shining moments be they solo vocal moments, dance moments (Dance Captain Shawn Fisher is especially impressive), or just being present along the sides of the stage reacting to Anne's story unfolding.
The eclectic and energetic score features the perfect blend of folk-rock, pop, gospel, and contemporary musical theatre. The music and lyrics capture the essence of Anne Shirley and are, in a word, memorable. Under the musical direction of Amanda Morton, a live seven-person orchestra plays the intoxicating and memorable music by Matt Vinson and orchestrations by Justin Goldner from behind Wilson Chin's set and above the stage. There were some sound issues on the night I attended, but that will most likely be worked out as the run progresses.
Other artistic elements come together seamlessly to create Green Gables, Avonlea, and bring the beloved characters to life. Scenic designer Wilson Chin creatively uses planks to create the rustic and country-like atmosphere that serves as the backdrop of the stage throughout the show. The ensemble moves several chairs and benches throughout the show to signify a scene change. A center platform (also helpful for scene changes) and is incorporated into much of the choreography. Philip S. Montgomery's lighting is effectively used throughout the production to capture and highlight the emotions on stage or a new chapter in Anne's story.
Wig designer Alfonso Annotto creatively brings the town characters to life with some bold and fierce hairstyles, including pixie cuts, blue highlights, and some other very fun and modern hairstyles. Annotto's wig stays true to Anne Shirley's carrot top-colored hair that she often complains about and even tries to change - resulting in green hair. Along with Annotto's unique designs, costume designer Tracy Christensen captures the modern and bold characters in a detailed way - incorporating crop tops, rompers, sneakers, boots, bow ties, vests, and flowered dresses. The clothing is a bit hipster, bohemian, punk rock, and traditional all at once.
Let's not forget the cast. The show features some newcomers as well as some familiar Broadway stars and they all perform brilliantly together.
Mckenzie Custin is fiery, spunky, and incredibly comedic in the role of Anne Shirley. She is a breathtaking performer with an impeccable range and intoxicating energy; she lights up the stage with her raw talent. It is hard to pick out her best musical solo moments because she dazzles in all of them. A few favorites include "Home," in which she displays powerful and passionate vocals, and "Oh, Mrs. Lynde" where she delivers an apology that is over-the-top and incredibly hilarious while simultaneously showing off her powerhouse vocal range. "Do You Know?" - a song in which Anne shares her loneliness and concerns about not fitting in - also showcases Custin's beautiful and emotional voice. "Pretend" is also a favorite thanks to Custin's crisp and clear vocals. In sum, Custin brings Anne Shirley to life perfectly. She is a new shining star in the world of musical theatre and new musicals.
Nancy Anderson is, of course, chilling in the role of Marilla Cuthbert. Her chemistry with her fellow actors is impeccable, and her vocals are incredibly emotional. She steals the spotlight with her number "As the Years Went By" thanks to her powerful, expressive, and breathtaking vocals; it was one of my favorite numbers in the show.
D.C. Anderson is comedic and incredibly likeable in the role of Matthew Cuthbert, who is captivated by Anne Shirley's chatter and unique personality. He has excellent chemistry with Custin as he sings "Matthew's Song." In this song, Matthew offers a different perspective of what beauty is and tells Anne that she is unique and, in fact, a beautiful girl. It is a beautiful moment on stage.
Michelle Veintimilla captures the shy, ivory-skinned, and dark-haired beauty Diana Barry with her looks, vocals, and acting. Custin and Veintimilla portray a believable friendship between Diana and Anne with their natural chemistry, effortless comedic timing, and pure talent. "The River," where Diana and Anne swear to be bosom friends, was one of my favorite numbers. Veintimilla makes a strong impression in her solo number "Diana's Lament" with her killer vocals and dramatic performance.
Chris McCarrell plays the smart and full of himself Gilbert Blythe. He oozes with confidence and has excellent comedic timing and chemistry with Mckenzie Custin. His confidence is on full display in "Easy" and "Forever" - in which as Anne swears she will dislike Gilbert forever - allows him to show off his comedic chops. Backed by the supporting company, this latter number also features some very creative staging. His number "I Wanna Know You" is incredibly memorable as well.
Dawn L. Troupe delivers a stellar and memorable performance as the town know-it-all Rachel Lynde. The character observes everything around her and offers her opinion with no problem. She sees how truly special Anne Shirley is; her standout number "Make a Move," in which she tells Anne to take a chance, allows Troupe to share her powerhouse vocals.
The supporting ensemble also have their shining moments. Alan Ariano as Mr. Blythe and Mr. Phillips, Olivia Griffin as Ruby Gillia, Theresa Rowley as Josie Pye, Dillan James Smith as Moody MacPherson, David Socolar as Fred Wright, Angela Travino as Miss Stacy and Mrs. Barry, and Bridget Elise Yingling as Prissy Andrews all deliver memorable performances and make the most of their time in the spotlight.
Some favorite company numbers include "Quiet Little Town/Gossip is a Sin," "It's a Girl (Part 1)," and "The Asylum" - a darker number that is intense and memorable. "Anne Went to School," "Invitation to Tea," "The Ashes of My Youth," "Before You Hit the Ground," and "Home (Reprise)" are among some of my favorites as well.
Anne of Green Gables: A New Folk Rock Musical is a truly captivating, astounding, and unique musical that offers history in the making. Merry-Go-Round Playhouse has brought a breathtaking and brand-new musical to life in a way that will appeal to modern audiences, but still stays true to those familiar characters. Do not miss your chance to experience invigorating musical numbers, a brilliant book, and some of the best choreography I have seen in a long time. Tickets are going fast so don't miss your chance to see the story of Anne Shirley come to life in this heartwarming and unique approach to the classic tale of Anne in Green Gables.
Running time: Two hours and fifty-five minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.
Anne of Green Gables: A New Folk Rock Musical runs through July 25, 2018 at The Preston H. Thomas Theatre in the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse as part of the 2018 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival in Auburn, New York. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions, click here.