'A more spectacular feel': Anne of Green Gables musical getting redesign worth up to $750K

Anne of Green Gables is getting a major facelift.

3-year process will spend $200 to $250K each year starting this year

The musical's Green Gables house set, seen here in 2015, is being replaced and will soon be motorized and revolve. (Dwayne Brown)

Anne of Green Gables is getting a major facelift.

The long-running musical at Charlottetown's Confederation Centre of the Arts will undergo upgrades, redesigns, and revisions in a three-year process with each stage costing between $200,000 and $250,000.

It is, at its core, a very dated piece of theatre.— Adam Brazier

"We've been doing this show for 53 years and over time your set wears down," said the centre's artistic director Adam Brazier, who will direct Anne this summer for the first time.

"You have to make a decision, do you re-invest in the current design?"

The redesign will include a new overall look, new major set pieces such as the Green Gables house and Avonlea school, new costumes for Anne, Matthew, Marilla and several other characters, a new show curtain, the reintroduction of the harp and harpist into the orchestra, new sound gear and a new sound design for the whole show.

Anne director Adam Brazier (left) and scenic construction foreman Boyd Allen (right) look over one of the new set pieces for Anne. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Gradually over three years, more set pieces will be motorized and features added "to give a more spectacular feel throughout," Brazier said.

For instance, this year they're building a new Green Gables, which next year will be automated and revolve.

'State-of-the-art theatre'

Major renovations over the last several years of the centre's mainstage Homburg Theatre have meant increased technical capacities Brazier wants to take advantage of. 

Designer Cory Sincennes has come up with new costumes for Avonlea schoolteacher Miss Stacey — she of the puffed sleeves — as well as several other lead characters. (Submitted by Confederation Centre of the Arts )

"We have at this point, one of the single most state-of-the-art theatres in North America, and our shows can reflect that," he said. 

The last redesign of the show was just six years ago in 2011, when the Centre unveiled what it called "Anne re-imagined" with new sets, lighting and choreography, which cost $325,000. 

It's not our job to update the show and turn it into  Hamilton .— Adam Brazier

It was a pivotal moment for the show — the biggest changes that had ever been made to its look and feel, including the introduction of projected imagery.

Brazier admits that design wasn't his taste.  

"I, from a personal perspective as the director, don't like the idea of a lot of projection in a piece like Anne of Green Gables," he said. 

"We want... something that really is more authentic to the Island — its colours and textures," he said. 

'We will always struggle with this show'

Show co-creator Don Harron died in 2015 and co-creator Norman Campbell died in 2004. The two started collaborating more than 60 years ago on the show. The lyrics were penned by Campbell, his wife Elaine Campbell and Mavor Moore, who have all passed away. 

"It needs these wake ups," says director Adam Brazier of Anne of Green Gables the Musical. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The centre must negotiate any changes, no matter how tiny, to the musical with the Campbell and Harron families. Brazier said they're happy with this new redesign.

"We will always struggle with this show — that it is, at its core, a very dated piece of theatre," he said.

"So is Hamlet!" 

Today's ticket buyers are used to seeing big spectacular shows like The Lion King, Brazier explains, and have short attention spans — so modernizing Anne is essential. 

The new curtain for Anne has already been installed at the Confederation Centre as part of a 3-year revamp of the musical. (Confederation Centre of the Arts )

Canadian set and costume designer Cory Sincennes, who designed Mamma Mia for the centre last year, is working with Brazier on the redesign. 

A renewal is timely as the centre brings in new actors to play lead characters Matthew and Marilla as well as Anne, who will be played this year by A.J. Bridel. 

On the road again?

The show is also being designed so sets will be easy to break down and pack up for travel, as the centre continues its quest to take the show on the road across the country and internationally. 

Measure twice, cut once! Building new sets for Anne of Green Gables at the Confederation Centre's facility in the West Royalty Business Park. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Last time Anne went on the road, to Toronto in 2009, critics ripped apart the show, its direction, sets and actors.

"If a critic doesn't want an old-time musical, don't come see Anne of Green Gables," responds Brazier. 

"It's not our job to update the show and turn it into Hamilton. It's our job to honour what it is... which is really good." 

Last summer, 23,719 people attended Anne's 34 shows at the Centre. 

About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email