Saturday, July 27, 2013

'Bend in the Road': A Polished Production of A Musical With Heart at NYMF

The story of Anne Shirley, the heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, is a sprawling tale that is difficult to condense into the time constraints of a musical theater production.  So much credit must go to Benita Sheckel and Michael Upward, the creative team behind Bend in the Road, which does just that and gives us the most polished of the productions I’ve seen at this year’s New York Music Theatre Festival (NYMF).

Ms. Scheckel (book and lyrics) and Mr. Upward (music and lyrics) may have had to sacrifice the character development that came out so splendidly in the 1985 film, with its indelible performances by Megan Follows as Anne, Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla, and Richard Farnsworth as Matthew.  But they have captured the key plot elements and, more importantly, they have retained the heart of this most emotionally rewarding of stories.

Ms. Scheckel has done a wonderful job of bringing out Anne’s indomitable spirit, and Mr. Upward has written one lovely song after the next, often infused with beautiful choral work.  The best of these include a touching setting of “The Lord’s Prayer;” the ode to friendship titled “Walk Like Sisters” (though it surely should be renamed “Kindred Spirits”); and “One Little Drop,” sung by Matthew as he dances with Anne, looking all grown up in the new dress he has bought for her.   

Though presented with minimal sets (cleverly designed by Lauren Helpern), the production is greatly enhanced by lovely watercolor-hued video projections by Andrew Lazarow, and costumes by David Kaley. 

All of the cast members, under the direction of Benjamin Endsley Klein (Ann on Broadway) give excellent performances, with special nods to Alison Woods as Anne, Whitney Winfield as Anne’s closest friend Diana, and Martin Vidnovic and Anne Kanengeiser as Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, the brother and sister whose lives are so deeply enriched after the error that led Anne to come live with them. 

Bend in the Road is an outstanding entry into the NYMF festival and delightful family fare. It is sure to have a long life and receive a great reception wherever its journey takes it.

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