Piper Goodeve in Anne of Green Gables
(© Joan Marcus)
Piper Goodeve in Anne of Green Gables
(© Joan Marcus)
The continuing popularity of the critically knocked Wicked is usually attributed to the irresistible pull of the musical's central characters, Elphaba and Glinda, who are thought to be admirable role models for young girls. But the show's creators are hardly the first to offer that noble service. The less celebrated but formidable Theatreworks/USA catalogue has regularly included impressive examples of worthy young women -- and the latest addition to those tuneful, colorful annals is the extremely tuneful and quite colorful Anne of Green Gables, which Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford have adapted from Lucy Maud Montgomery's popular 1908 novel.

The enduring Cryer-Ford team -- known primarily for the 1978 adult tuner I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road -- has done a bang-up job of getting this one-act together to send it on the well-traveled Theatreworks/USA road. Clocking in at somewhat longer than the company's standard fare and using a somewhat larger cast, the 90-minute entry begins with the arrival of 12-year-old orphan Anne Shirley (Piper Goodeve) at the rural Canada home of good-hearted Matthew Cuthbert (Erick Devine) and his reticent sister Marilla (Bethe B. Austin).

At first disappointed at not receiving the boy they'd requested to help work their farm, the down-to-earth Cuthberts slowly learn to love the determined Anne. And Anne comes to love them, as well as to overcome the resistance of judgmental townspeople. She also eventually appreciates the clumsy blandishments of well-meaning neighbor boy Gilbert Blithe (Andrew Gehling). Over a period of five or six years Anne not only grows up with her best pal Diana Barry (Jessica Grové), but matures into a fine young woman and novice teacher.

Off the page and on the stage, Anne does her shooting up straight and tall with the help of those Cryer-Ford songs, all of them merry and melodic. At least one, "Kindred Spirits" would be a candidate to step out of the score were songs still stepping out of musicals' scores. Indeed, those who know the Cryer-Ford songbook will immediately hear "Kindred Spirits" as a companion piece to "Old Friend" from Getting My Act Together.

One of the distinguishing marks of a Theatreworks/USA undertaking is its ability to disseminate object lessons. But while it's incumbent on these entries to be instructive, they're never as cut-and-dried as a 19th-century primer. Anne of Green Gables, energetically directed by Tyler Merchant, is particularly lively, because it's about the spirited activities of expressing emotion, building friendships, bucking conventional locals, and finding a secure home.

As Anne, Goodeve looks like someone Maurice Sendak might have drawn had he ever illustrated the children's classic. In David H. Lawrence's wig of red braids, she exudes about as much pluck as could be wished for by anyone who loves the Montgomery book. Austin pulls tears as a woman who has difficulty showing her feelings; while Devine elicits smiles as a man who has no trouble revealing his. The other cast members jolly up the proceedings, including Heather MacRae, who is lots of fun as a nosy-body.

Indeed, Cryer, Ford and the Theatreworks/USA troupe have made Anne bounce with the verve of a youngster not a day over sweet-and-spicy 16.