Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Nine Lives of L. M. Montgomery

I was very lucky to get a chance to go out and see this new play at the Kings Playhouse theatre in Georgetown last night. And given that I know a good amount about all of the pieces that came together to make this whole thing a success I can say that this whole event was really quite extraordinary.

The official website for the show is a good intro to what it's all about at

There has been a lot of work done to the Kings Playhouse to upgrade the lighting and other facilities specifically for the play, and just in time for the theatre to host the Vinyl Cafe tonight and tomorrow night. Overnight PEI goes from having just Charlottetown, Summerside and Victoria for theatre locations to having four now that Georgetown has come up so nicely.

I have only a second-hand knowledge of L. M. Montgomery's journals from my mother who has read them through when they were first published widely, so I think I come to seeing the play about the author and her imagination from a fairly neutral position. I got through Anne of Green Gables, didn't really find it too interesting, but I did really like The Story Girl and the Golden Road so I am also not one of those islanders who instinctively hate everything associated with Anne, either. This play creates a very vivid picture of the story of a talented but under-appreciated young girl who writes poetry and dreams of being published in a magazine, though her struggles with her extended family and working jobs as a teacher and newspaper writer where she inevitably puts in more work than she should because everyone around her rushes to take advantage of her talents and generosity, through her later life with similar hardships as a preacher's wife and author of bestsellers who tries hard to find a balance between her light-hearted characters and her own desire to put her own darker thoughts into writing.

While her books were aimed at children, the story of her life is a complex and interesting story, with characters defined more by weakness and struggle than by good or evil natures. The play does a very good job of highlighting the lawsuits and fights with her publisher as important contributing events to Maud's mental state without turning them into plot points or easy sources of suspense.

The appearances of her fictional characters having conversations with her, arguing about how they are to grow and develop or admonishing her for putting little bits of her own darker thoughts about life into her characters is done very well, and isn't at all gimmicky (well, there's a clever use of lighting used on Anne's hair but that was just a fun little surprise.)And I caught a few familiar lines from her writing worked in as seamless bits of dialog, and if I caught a couple surely there were many more.

Another thing that I noticed was the silent skill of the choreographer, there were at times quite a few people moving around on the small stage and there wasn't a single clumsy moment. It could certainly grow to fill a larger stage area, but they make great use of what they have.

I will confess that I will not go out of my way to watch a musical if I can avoid it. But as musicals go, the songs in this one were excellent. The style of music varied and kept up with the time period where the story was happening, and showed the cast's ability to vary their own singing to fit the styles and the different moods in each scene. The sound could have been better in the theatre, a few more mics placed around the stage and better control over music vs. vocal sound levels would be good, but they'll take care of that pretty quickly I'm sure. You can here some of the songs on the play's site here. Go take a listen.

Overall it was a great testament to what can get done if everyone involved in a project has the vision and drive to see it through, even when they walk into a dusty old theatre that no one expected could put on something so innovative and interesting.

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By al - 5:16 p.m. |

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