‘Anne of Green Gables’ features spitfire in a straw hat
November 16, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Just after the second act opens in “Anne of Green Gables,” a character turns to the title figure and proclaims in exasperation: “Anne, you do beat all.”
The pithy assessment is meant for the character, but the appraisal also applies to Kasey Nusbickel, the actress in the title role of the just-opened Village Theatre musical.
The actress — a spitfire in a straw hat in the initial scenes — portrays Anne as all nerve and verve, from the motor-mouthed orphan in the opening scenes to the whip-smart lady at the conclusion. Nusbickel has enough aplomb and snap to banish any cobwebs from the century-old dialogue lifted from the classic novel.
Costumed in a series of carrot-topped wigs, shapeless frocks and starchy dresses, she steers the storyline through a series of misadventures.
The musical starts as young Anne Shirley daydreams at a train station in Avonlea, the pretty-as-a-postcard setting of the production.
The orphan landed in Avonlea after siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert decided to adopt a child to pitch in on the family farm, Green Gables.
Only, the Cuthberts had requested a boy.
Marilla (Suzy Hunt) seems to be a bitch in high-button shoes after Anne arrives from the orphanage, but a softer side is uncovered as the musical progresses. Hunt — last seen on the Village Theatre stage as the hard-as-steel grandmother in “Lost in Yonkers” — has a tenderness and a knack for comic timing to temper stern Marilla.
The other partner in the brother-and-sister team is gentle Matthew (Dennis Bateman). The simple farmer turns into a father figure and friend for the orphaned Anne. Bateman brings charm and aw-shucks appeal to the role.
Anne, on the other hand, unpacks tall tales and grandiose pronouncements as she settles in at Green Gables. Example: “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.”
The audience follows Anne as the tart-tongued orphan turns into the talk of the town in Avonlea, a verdant strip on Prince Edward Island.
The title character meets Gilbert Blythe (Matthew John Kacergis) at the local schoolhouse — and turns the encounter into a yearslong grudge. Anne — described throughout the opening act as “terribly plain” and “homely” — erupts into a rage after Gilbert compares her red pigtails to carrots.
In other humorous highlights, Anne bumbles through a tea party and has a regrettable experience after she attempts to dye her ginger tresses.
The family-centric production is a smart choice for the holiday season — a wholesome-as-apple-pie contrast to the ribald season opener, “The Full Monty.”
Longtime Artistic Director Steve Tomkins and Vanessa Miller co-direct the capable cast. Tomkins and Kristin Culp use droll choreography to suggest aging in the adolescent characters. The breathless romps in the opening act lead to more form and grace in later scenes.
The musical last appeared at Village Theatre as a stripped-down reading at the 2009 Festival of New Musicals. The ongoing theater season includes a pair of original musicals; “Iron Curtain” is the other.
“Anne of Green Gables” scribes Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman culled and, in some cases, reassembled the turn-of-the-20th-century Lucy Maud Montgomery novel into a series of effervescent songs. Though some of the lines drip schmaltz, the result is true to the source material.
The plot bears a passing resemblance to the homespun anecdotes in the “Little House” series, penned by Laura Ingalls Wilder and enshrined in 1970s prime time. Think of “Anne of Green Gables” as a Canadian cousin: “Little House on the Harbour.”
If you go
‘Anne of Green Gables’
- Village Theatre — Francis J. Gaudette Theatre
- 303 Front St. N.
- Nov. 11 – Jan. 2
- Show times vary, including 2 p.m. matinees Dec. 28-29
- $20 – $60
- 392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.