Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Oct 24, 2013
02:25 PM
Stage Write

Anne, a Wonder

Anne, a Wonder

PHOTO BY TOM KLINGELE

Diana (Libby Zabit) and Anne (Kailey Boyle), bosom friends forever.

Like her signature flame-red braids, Anne Shirley, the star of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved young adult book Anne of Green Gables, can’t help but make an impression. She’s impulsive, moody and melodramatic, ready to seize every moment of life like a grasshopper in a field of flowers. It’s one of the many reasons why she remains a beloved character more than 100—100!—years after she was first introduced.

Children’s Theatre of Madison’s current musical production of Anne of Green Gables (playing in Overture Center Playhouse through Sunday)—and more specifically, the actress who plays Anne—have just given us another reason. Kailey Boyle is an absolute wonder, capturing all of Anne’s energy and youthful anguish in her wide-eyed expressions and exaggerated reactions. Her voice, meanwhile, is sweet and strong, lending all the musical numbers she’s part of a surprising amount of weight and emotional import.  

As her character arrives in the small town of Avonlea and begins to navigate the familiar travails of the book—convincing the Cuthberts to let her stay, landing a best, er, bosom friend, saving the life of a young infant, beginning a teaching career—Boyle makes us feel the urgency of every event and every scene. Even when she accidentally dyes her flame-red braids green—but not, of course, because of Gilbert Blythe (Chris Geise), the handsome neighbor boy who’s her crush and academic rival.  

Mark Huismann and Amy Welk are heartwarming as Mathew and Marilla Cuthbert, the older brother -sister couple who take Anne into Green Gables (even though they really wanted a boy to help on the farm). Huismann is taciturn, wise and unexpectedly compassionate. Welk’s prim-‘n’-proper gruff belies a fierce emotional loyalty that’ll touch any parent’s heart.

The other star of the show, is, as is often the case with CTM productions, the set design. Anchored by an oversized free-suspended tree branch from which dangle a two-seater swing and multiple firefly lanterns, this single piece of set-staging genius evokes everything that’s magical about rural childhood—the playfulness, the natural beauty, the feeling of endless possibility.

The show’s choreography is also tightly staged—as it really has to be in the somewhat cramped confines of the Playhouse stage. A set of musicians fits into upper stage left like a perfect jigsaw piece, and the way the young ensemble players use rhythm and movement adds to the show’s sense of flow, whether they’re sprinkling leaves across the stage to note the arrival of fall or bobbing and shifting their heads in a one-room classroom out of control.

Fresh on the heels of her performance in Four Seasons Theater’s Les Miserables this summer, it seems Boyle, not unlike the character she plays here, is destined for some pretty amazing things. Our advice: Catch and appreciate her while you can.

Anne of Green Gables runs at Overture's Playhouse through Sunday, October 27. Tickets can be purchased here

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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