“Bend in the Road” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Closed July 28, 2013)

Book and Lyrics by Benita Scheckel
Music and Lyrics by Michael Upward
Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Bend in the Road” is a delightful character-driven musical lifted from the framework of the classic 1908 novel “Anne of the Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The musical – like those before it – closely follows the plot of the novel and includes all of the significant moments in Montgomery’s delightful story of Anne Shirley’s coming of age at Green Gables with adoptive parents Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.

The action of the musical occurs primarily in Marilla’s kitchen, Anne’s bedroom, the schoolhouse and yard, Diana Berry’s home, and the “haunted” wood. Benita Scheckel and Michael Upward’s lyrics capture the spirit of the novel and their book and music bring life to the characters and their conflicts in honest and endearing ways.

Forty minutes into “Bend in the Road,” the musical warms up after a somewhat lethargic start and continues to be engaging throughout the first act. Anne Kanengeiser (as Marilla Cuthbert) and Alison Woods (as Anne Shirley) are the glue that holds this musical together and their first duet in Anne’s bedroom “The Lord’s Prayer” gives the musical grounding in authenticity and excellence. The scenes between Marilla and Anne, Anne and Diana Barry (Whitney Winfield), and Anne and Gilbert Blythe (CJ Pawlikowski) are among the best in the musical and it would be prudent to include more scenes with these characters throughout both acts. The first schoolhouse scene, for example, is much too long: it would have been better perhaps to focus on the relationship between Anne and Gil.

Kudos to Anne Kanengeiser who uses her formidable craft to develop the character of Marilla from the doubtful adoptive parent, through the process of identification with Anne, to the place where Marilla realizes she is needed more as a mother who cares than a disciplinarian to a troubled child. Ms. Kanengeiser and Ms. Woods are the perfect team and they compliment one another’s performances with generosity and skill. And kudos to Martin Vidnovic who creates a vulnerable Matthew Cuthbert who knows how to “stand back” and let Marilla go to those places he knows in his heart she will go.

As the second act evolves, things fare less well for “Bend in the Road” which has been in process for over a year. Indeed, the musical staging throughout the second act, particularly from the final school yard/graduation scene, is lackluster at best. What should be the highlight of the musical turns out to be dyads strewn across the stage in forced “conversation” as the cast attempts to bring resolution to the musicals important conflicts and feature Anne’s “Bend in the Road,” Gilbert’s confession, and Marilla’s decision to sell Green Gables. This act needs a few powerhouse duets between Marilla and Anne in addition to the plethora of ensemble numbers.

That said, “Bend in the Road” is a charming traditional musical which appeals to a broad range of ages and has the potential for continued success. It serves as a significant extended metaphor for the importance of finding places where we are wanted and where we want to be, places where are needed and where we need to be, places where imagination blossoms and enervates the spirit. Be sure to see one of its remaining performances.