Runtime: 90 min.
Release date: 4 March 1956
Production Companies: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Producer: Norman Campbell
Book and Lyrics: Donald Harron and James Costigan
Music and Additional Lyrics: Norman Campbell
Source Material: Adapted from the novel by L.M. Montgomery
Principal Cast: Toby Tarnow (Anne Shirley), John Drainie (Matthew Cuthbert), Margot Christie (Marilla Cuthbert), Margaret Griffin (Diana), William Cole (Gilbert), Helene Winston (Mrs. Rachel Lynde), Sydney Sturgess (Mrs. Barry), Pegi Brown (Mrs. Bell), Peg Dixon (Mrs. Morrison), Eric House (Mr. Phillips), Sharon Acker (Miss Stacey), Barbara Tremain (Mrs. Spencer), Jean Keller (Mrs. Blewett), Barbara Hamilton (Shop Attendant), Howard Milsom (Stationmaster)
An earlier version of the Campbell and Harron production of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, which would premiere at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre for the Arts in 1965, this ninety-minute live television performance aired as part of CBC Folio (1955-1960), an umbrella series of musical and dramatic original programs and adaptations, ranging everywhere from W.O. Mitchell’s The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Anne of Green Gables is impressive for a live performance; Toby Tarnow, who had played Anne on CBC Radio to favourable reviews, was “Wholesome” to Toronto Daily Star columnist Gordon Sinclair (“Radio and Television” 22). William Cole’s Gilbert, with a D.A. haircut and a Colonel Sanders string tie, croons “Wonderin’ / All at once I’m wonderin'” in an impressive imitation of Elvis Presley, whereas Tarnow and Margaret Griffin cannot sing at all. In another plot change to refocus the story on Anne and Gilbert, Anne is forced to sit next to Gilbert after breaking her slate over his head. Gilbert apologizes to Marilla and Matthew, who are horrified by Anne’s behaviour, by claiming that he broke the slate by accident; when he then asks Anne to go to the picnic with him, Marilla and Matthew cannot understand why Anne vows she’ll never speak to him again.
One of my favourite scenes in the Charlottetown musical, which I saw for the first time in 1996, is the end of Act I where the Avonlea schoolchildren and the adults sing their enthusiasm for “Ice Cream.” In both this television version and the 1958 reprise, this event has a decidedly different outcome: here, the schoolchildren are beside themselves in anticipation until they discover a frightful mistake in the recipe; as the scene fades to black for the intermission, the children walk away from the camera in the depths of despair.
Sinclair’s review is largely positive: “Didn’t think I’d ever stick with a musical version of Anne of Green Gables to the end of a 90-minute run but I did and enjoyed the freshness of it all,” although “Norman Campbell’s music, while a bit on the syrupy side, was used sparingly enough to make us want more” (“Radio and Television” 22).
Barbara Hamilton, seen here in a minor role, would play Marilla Cuthbert in the BBC miniseries Anne of Green Gables (1972) and Anne of Avonlea (1975), and she would later play Eulalie Bugle in Sullivan Entertainment’s Road to Avonlea (1990-1996).
Campbell, Norman, and Don Harron. “Anne of Green Gables: The Musical.” In The Lucy Maud Montgomery Album, compiled by Kevin McCabe, 336-45. Don Mills, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1999.
Sinclair, Gordon. “Next Week’s Highlights on TV.” Toronto Daily Star, 3 March 1956, 30.
—. “Radio and Television.” Toronto Daily Star, 6 March 1956, 22.
Vineberg, Dusty. “School Desegregation Critic Guest on ‘Fighting Words.'” Montreal Star, 3 March 1956, 22+.