‘Anne of Green Gables’: Weston showcases theater’s next generation

Photo by Tim Fort

Jim Lowe
THE LOWE DOWN

When the Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford musical adaptation of “Anne of Green Gables,” the L.M. Montgomery classic, opened in New York in 2007, critic Anne Midgette wrote in her New York Times review:

“Those who loved the book need not fear distortion: Even when events are telescoped, the highlights of the plot — about a loquacious redheaded orphan mistakenly sent to live with the middle-aged siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who actually wanted a boy — are responsibly represented. Short, simple songs, delivered naturalistically over simple accompaniments, are woven into the story rather than stopping the action. … Although the piece is short, the creators faithfully adhere to the book’s entire outline, following Anne until she is a teenager.”

Midgette also said, “Piper Goodeve captures Anne’s effusive enthusiasm,” referring to a successful actor who began her career in Weston Playhouse’s Young Company.

Now Weston’s education director, Goodeve is assisting Tim Fort, who is directing the Weston Playhouse Young Company production of “Anne of Green Gables,” running June 13-30 at the company’s new theater, Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm.

“But there is more, because Piper is very good friends with the composer and book writer, Gretchen Fryer and Nancy Ford, who I believe are the (longest lasting) female composing team, who have been working together for about 60 years,” Fort said recently by phone. The pair are best known for their “We’re Getting our Act Together and Taking It on the Road.”

At Goodeve’s invitation, Cryer and Ford will host a talkback following the 4 p.m. June 15 show, plus a free June 16 morning workshop on how to write a musical. In a special June 16 evening event, the two will perform songs and share stories (information on the website).

Fort chose “Anne of Green Gables” for his final year of directing the Young Company because, despite its 19th-century setting, it speaks to our time. (Fort, Steve Stettler and Malcom Ewen, co-founding directors of 30 years, are retiring at the end of this summer season)

“It’s a show I love,” Fort said. “It’s not just a kids’ show, it’s at all levels for all people. And these characters have real depth.

“With the ‘me-too’ era in mind, it’s the empowerment of a young girl who is coming of age — and a lot of things that are current, even though it’s in a land far away in the 1870s and ‘80s,” he said.

Anne Shirley is a spunky, redheaded orphan sent to live with a farmer and his sister in Avonlea, a close-knit community on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. But, the Cuthberts thought they were adopting a boy to help on the farm. Heartwarming and humorous, the hourlong musical follows Anne’s adventures — and misadventures — as she discovers the true meaning of family, friendship and home.

“She’s an orphan and she comes to a small town, like Weston, where everybody knows each other,” Fort said. “And she’s a little bit ‘other,’ and the town has to adjust — which it does — to somebody who’s not exactly of them. Who could ask for anything more?”

Weston’s Young Company, which Fort initiated 18 years ago, numbers eight theater undergrads this year. Goodeve assisted with the auditions; in fact, she chose the Anne.

“After 18 years, I am just always amazed by the talent and the depth,” Fort said. “We get them from about five to seven programs that have triple-threat programs, that train people to dance and sing as well as to act. There are three from Boston Conservatory this year.”

An added challenge this year is that Young Company members must perform in “West Side Story” with the professionals, playing July 24 to Aug. 4 on the company’s main stage at Weston Playhouse.

“You have to have people who can do that Jerome Robbins choreography, which is incredibly complex,” Fort said. “People have to be able to pick that up quickly.”

Young Company members also perform in Weston’s late-night cabarets in the basement of the playhouse after main-stage performances, so living in rooms on the second floor of the playhouse proves convenient.

“The last thing they do is perform the cabaret, so they can just go upstairs,” Fort said. “They do have days free. We give them some time to frolic in Vermont, but we also have a series of workshops they participate in.”

Weston’s Young Company has helped produce many successful professional actors, like Goodeve, some of whom have returned to perform in Weston’s main-stage productions.

“There’s something in the water around here, but the kids really think of this summer as something special, and they do come back,” Fort said. “To be their age and to be exposed to the way theater works by Weston first, it being their first professional job, I hope that it sets a good example for them.”

Weston Playhouse

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents its Young Company in “Anne of Green Gables,” a musical adaptation of the L.M. Montgomery classic by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, June 13-30 at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, 705 Main St. in Weston. Performances are at 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, plus 1 p.m. Saturday, July 16. (Runtime is approximately one hour.) Tickets are $20, $10 for children; call 802-824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.