Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bend in the Road Begins its Journey

L to R: Justine Huxley, Christopher Higgins, Alison Woods, Kailey Swanson,
Mariella D'Avirro. Photo Credit: Chris Ellis

It takes a lot to get a new musical to opening night. Rewrites, rehearsals, more rewrites, and a multitude of technical details must come together before a show can soar. Once it previews in front of an audience, the shaping process continues until it reaches its big debut. For Bend in the Road, Benita Scheckel and Michael Upward’s new musical based on the classic novel Anne of Green Gables, the finished product may yet be in need of some woodshedding but it’s not without potential. 

Upland’s songs have a pleasant pop sensibility that fits with the show’s folksy charm and Scheckel’s book incorporates all the necessary plot points - much like the 1965 adaptation, Anne Of Green Gables - The Musical, by Don Harron, Norman Campbell, Elaine Campbell and Mavor Moore, but it takes a softer, more laid-back approach. Missing is a sense of urgency and cohesion to both the overall arc of the story and its framework that a musical such as this needs to really sparkle.

The story begins with busybody Rachel Linde (Barbara Niles) talking directly to the audience about the day Anne Shirley (Alison Woods), an orphan, came to live with Marilla Cuthbert (Christopher Callen) and her brother Matthew (Don Margolin) on their farm at Avonlea. The narration device is then set aside for the remainder of the show, which plays out in real time as Anne takes over the first person narrative of her days at Avonlea, making friends, and overcoming the challenges of growing up.  

Woods is delightful as the precocious young heroine whose effusive personality reveals a most positive and practical outlook on life. “If you have big ideas you have to have big words,” she says insisting that a field isn’t just a field but a Violet Vale, and a pond isn’t merely a pond but the Lake of Shining Waters. For her, words matter and when she sings them, Woods is even more appealing.

Margolin captures the essence of the quiet, hard-working Matthew and creates a nice balance to Callen’s more brittle disposition. Pacing and line issues affected Callen on opening night but that is surely a product of a short rehearsal period since others in the cast experienced the same problems. Scene changes should become smoother and entrances less tentative with repetition as well.

L to R: Tyler Sheef, Cade Anderson, Ty Freedman, Christopher Higgins, Justine
Huxley, Mariella D'Avirro, Kailey Swanson, Zoe Berger-Davis.

Directing the youths in the ensemble to choose specific intentions rather than playing broadly for laughs would be preferred but it’s easy to excuse them based on their age and inexperience. It’s harder to suspend the belief that high school boys can double as men old enough to have eight children by simply donning a beard and hat, however.

While Bend in the Road continues to evolve, its youthful enthusiasm and lovable characters have certainly connected with Pasadena audiences. The heartwarming story of Anne Shirley, with an e, has already extended its run through October 14. I look forward to seeing the direction it takes as it settles into its rhythm and takes the next turn up ahead.

Bend in the Road

The Carrie Hamilton Theatre upstairs at The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Avenue, in Pasadena, 91101.
Click Here for tickets or call (626) 344-8846.

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Comedy Faceposted by Ellen Dostal, MusicalsInLA @
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