After Half a Century, Prince Edward Island’s Musical Tradition Takes a Break

Prince Edward Island’s most famous character, Anne Shirley, is a fictional character. But that doesn’t stop tourists from all over the world, and Japan in particular, from a trip to Cavendish to visit Green Gables, the ranch that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel about the sassy orphan from the town of Avonlea, is another novel in itself.

And since 1965, with the exception of a two-year break caused by the pandemic, most of those tourists have seen “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical” performances at the Federal Center for the Arts in Charlottetown .

But now, anyone planning to make the show part of a trip to pay homage to red-haired Anne will have to make additional plans. After 57 years, the center decided that the musical would be performed every two years instead of annually.

Adam Brazier, the director of performing arts at the Federation Center, told me that the play was the first to be staged at the center and that the decision to cut its long run was one of many. stemming from a pandemic response.

It is a change that Mr. Brazier, whose family has a long history on the island, has made with some trepidation.

“I had to put up with being an absolute pleaser and this was a huge systemic cultural shift,” Mr. Brazier said. “The unknown always breeds uncertainty and fear. I have to admit that absolutely exists.”

But in Mr. Brazier’s view, the biennial “Anne” would allow the theater, which currently offers only two shows per season, to “preserve the legacy” of “Anne” herself.

As he expected, there was some immediate backlash on the island and also when the change was announced.

in one letter published by SaltwireAn online gathering of Atlantic Canada newspapers, Paul Smitz of Brookvale, Prince Edward Island, said the decision was “ridiculous” and called for Mr Brazier and the arts center’s chief executive to step down. .

“It means a lot to the tourism industry,” Mr. Smitz wrote.

Kathy and Dino DelGaudio of Vero Beach, Fla., who own a seasonal home on the island, wrote to say they’ve been in production every summer, excluding the inter-border closures. related to the pandemic, over the past two decades. They also said they were demoralized.

“Anne represents the essence of PEI to us and puts PEI on the global map,” the couple wrote. “Big mistake, people.”

But one of the new projects Mr. Brazier has taken on is Anne. The theater will create a musical version of “Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables.”

During the 1930s, Loretta Shaw, a Canadian missionary, gave Muraoka a book by Montgomery, which Ms. Muraoka went on to translate, along with most other works by the Canadian author. However, Japan’s fascination with Anne developed after 1953, when a translation titled “Red-haired Anne” was introduced into the Japanese school curriculum.

(Michael B. Pass, a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa, has published an interesting analysis and history of Japan’s relationship with Anne.)

Of course, interest in Anne’s various stories in Canada was largely fueled by television adaptations. Most recently, referred to simply as “Anne” when it was first broadcast by CBC and later as “Anne With an E” for a Netflix release, took a darker approach to the character’s story.

But it’s not just television. Catherine Hong has written for The New York Times Book Review about the proliferation of book adaptations of the ghostly redhead’s story. These include “Anne of Greenville” by Mariko Tamaki. Ms. Hong describes the book as “more of a fun story than a retelling — in which Anne is a half-Japanese ‘homosexual’ adopted daughter who loves disco music and is ‘passionate’ rash’ of two mothers. She adds, “After the family moves to the conservative small town of Greenville, Anne encounters a group of fearsome natives and a thorny love triangle involving two girls.”

[Read: Anne of Everywhere]

The musical production in Charlottetown was written in part by Don Harron, who is best remembered for his comedic performances such as Charlie Farquharson, a gray-haired Ontario farmer-philosopher. Mr. Brazier told me that the manufacturing process has undergone many revisions and changes over the past half century.

In 1971, Clive Barnes, longtime theater critic for The Times, gave a large positive partIf it’s a bit condescending, judge the musical that was staged in New York.

“Simple, innocent and Canadian, this is the kind of show that will appeal most to simple-minded people — if they still come to theaters these days,” he wrote.

With a cast of 26 actors and 14 musicians, Anne was a big and expensive production. But Mr. Brazier says giving it a break every two years is not about saving money and the theater budget isn’t cut.

And Mr. Brazier says the theater is committed to preserving what he calls “the masterpiece of the 1960s musical theater.”

He added: “We cherish this show and everything about it. I believe you can learn anything you need about musical theater from ‘Anne of Green Gables – The Musical’.”

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A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has covered Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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