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BWW Reviews: Shots In the Dark's ANNE OF GREEN GABLES Glitchy, but Winsome

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As it was first published as a novel by L.M. Montgomery in 1908, "Anne of Green Gables" has long established its place of the shelf of classic literature. Even Mark Twain fell in love with the fiery lead character of 11 year old Anne Shirley, calling her, "the dearest and most loveable child in fiction since the immortal Alice". Shots in the Dark Independent Theatre Company opened its ambitious production of the musical version at the Columbus Performing Arts Center (CPAC)'s Van Fleet Theater for a two week run last evening.

There is much to like about the show, starting with its lead, Anne Shirley, (played by Martha Smith)- the red-headed orphan girl looking for a permanent home when sent, against their wishes for a boy, mistakenly to Green Gables, the home of quiet, country bachelor, Matthew Cuthbert (Mark Schuliger) and his spinster sister, Marilla (Molly Hoffman Watson). Smith is youthful, energetic, and sweet- a bit more reserved than Anne is typically played, but delivers several beautiful songs, especially her opening number. She is more introspective than feisty, and it plays well, however I found myself wishing that Smith's Anne would just let loose and have a few of her famous hot-headed tantrums once or twice.

One of the brightest spots of the show is Mark Schuliger's Matthew Cuthbert, who is perfectly humble, kind, and ever the champion of the not-quite-what -was-expected-but-always-under-anticipated Anne. Schulinger does an exemplary job of creating a refreshingly real, relatable role and is the most natural of all of the personas on stage. You can see the delight of the magic of a charcter coming to life in front of an audience in his eyes each time he steps on stage, and he is truly delightful to watch.

Matthew's sister, Marilla Cuthbert, is played in this production as the softest version of her character I've ever seen. Molly Huffman Watson's Marilla appears only mildly inconvenienced at the thought of raising the extraordinary Anne "against her better judgment", and as such, loses some of the character's depth when transitioning into Anne's first maternal figure throughout the story. Watson is charismatic and likable, but the singing also challenges her at her times.

The best voice of the production belongs likely to Josh Kimball, as Anne's would-be beau, Gilbert Blythe. Kimball is youthful, energetic, and persistent, despite his knack for always saying the wrong things to the hot-tempered Anne. Kimball has wonderful stage presence that keeps some of the slower paced scenes interesting, and also delivers some lovely songs himself.

Other notable performances belong to Jordan Shafer as Anne's first best friend, Diana Barry, for her genuine portrayal of kindness and sisterhood, as well as her quite amusing scene in which she accidentally gets drunk on Marilla's black currant wine having mistaken it for tea. Lisa Thoma is lovely as town busy-body, Rachel Lynde, a sassy neighbor of the Cuthbert's whom Anne eventually wins over. Taryn Huffman's Minnie Mae Barry, Diana's younger sister, is a bit over-the-top at times, but also admittedly, lends some much-needed definition to otherwise bland ensemble characters. The ensemble itelf is diverse- several of its members sing and dance nicely and act well, but several also frequently forgot to stay in character during scenes and would either fall in and out of their "stage faces" quite obviously, or fail to have any expression what-so-ever when facing the audience until their line came up.

There is certainly enough talent in this cast to pull off a respectable production, and that is managed, but there are several unfortunate technical issues that Director, Patrick McGregor, II needs to resolve to really have the show reach its potential. The piano is so loud in several numbers that it is difficult to clearly hear the un-microphoned actors' dialogue, an easy fix. The choreography (by Valerie McGregor) for several of the numbers is disadvantaged by the number of bodies and structures on the small stage space, and left actors frequently bumping into each other, or unable to execute a complete dance move for fear of colliding. Alternatively, choreography at times consisted of straight lines to the sides of the stage as the central stage area was needed for the main scenework. With the exception of a lovely dance number in which Anne's parents (played by Marla Schulz and Dave Zanieski) and a younger Anne (Taryn Huffman) lament their losses, the choreography largely didn't work well, save final poses in dance numbers.

Most disappointingly, were the horribly malfunctioning and poorly designed set pieces (Set Design by Mari Taylor). A classroom chalkboard frame was ridiculously large, poorly constructed, and unnecessary when a simple, easily transportable easel would have done, and the tea cart used for a crucial scene squeaked so loudly and rolled so wobbly it detracted from the scene each time it moved. A center boxed piece of the set that was meant to move forward to become a table at times, often refused to move, or moved precariously, when an actual table would have been much simpler and easily transported. Worst of all was the homefront of the Green Gables residence- a monstrous solid white doorway with a single green window pane that took 4 people to move- which constantly bangEd Loudly throughout its movement, and offered no additional set benefit once in place that a suspended window frame would not have achieved. The set failures dragged out the pace of the already 3 hour long show and zapped the energy drastically.

Simple errors such as a book left on stage through several scenes unnecessarily, and a show program that did not contain a scene breakdown, so that the audience was left questioning aloud for several minutes, 'Is it intermission now?" are also easily correctable errors that took the overall caliber of the show down, and quite sadly so. Shots In the Dark has the potential to pull off a really exceptional production, but lowers itself to the appearance of a B-Grade community theater when it allows some of the sloppiness apparent in its technical aspects in this show.

If you desire to share a sweet introduction of a lovely piece of literature history with a younger theater-goer, or remember the delight of 'Anne' from your own childhood, you'll enjoy this production of "Anne of Green Gables: The Musical" and its charming cast. However, if Shots In the Dark Independent Theater Company really wants to step up and be a strong competitor for the tough Columbus audience market, it has to get the entirety of its production as solid as its performers.

"Anne of Green Gables: The Musical" runs July 19-20 and 25-26 at 7:30pm, as well as July 21 and 27 at 3pm at the Columbus Performing Arts Center's Van Fleet Theater located at 549 Franklin Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43215. For additional information, go to: http://www.shotsinthedarkitc.com/anneofgreengables.htm


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From This Author Lisa Norris

Lisa grew up participating in community theater groups such as Cincinnati Young People's Theater (CYPT) in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, both in front of and behind (read more...)