The latest reading of the book musical by Bob Johnston and Nancy White (composers and co-lyricists) and Jeff Hochhauser (librettist and co-lyricist) represents revisions since Manhattan readings in 2001 and 2002.
"This reading is about letting go of [original author] Lucy Maud Montgomery a little more," Hochhauser told Playbill On-Line, though the collaborators do have the blessing of the Montgomery estate and are certainly not radically reinventing the family-friendly world of the series of books.
The internationally-known Anne — the red-headed orphan who finds a home on Prince Edward Island, in the Canadian maritimes, circa 1900 — already spawned a popular musical in Canada, Anne of Green Gables and a widely-seen TV series. The musical is known as Canada's only major musical theatre export. Although it lacks a profile in the United States, it is revived annually on Prince Edward Island and in stock, school and amateur theatres across Canada, and had a West End run in London.
The idea for Anne and Gilbert came to Hochhauser after he visited Prince Edward Island and saw a production of Anne of Green Gables, the musical. He thought a sequel exploring the romantic, more adult territory of the character would be interesting and dramatic.
He and writing partner Bob Johnston, his collaborator on the musical,Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi, invited Nancy White, a popular Canadian concert performer with roots in PEI, to join them as a co writer. Anne and Gilbert is based on the second and third books in the Anne series — "Anne of Avonlea" and "Anne of the Islands."
"It's about Anne as a young woman, and about her tortured romance with Gilbert," Hochhauser explained. "It's a surprisingly neurotic little love story. Gilbert was a schoolboy and they have their contentious love affair: She's holding out for a fantasy dream man, and then in the second act she gets her fantasy dream man, but guess what? She winds up with Gilbert. It's a story about why we make the choices we make in life."
The reading is co-directed by Hochhauser and Jonathan Hadley. Johnston is musical director. The cast includes Jessica Grové as Anne, Peter Deiwick as Gilbert, Jill Corey as Mrs. Lynde, Nancy White as Marilla, with Holli Banks, Holly Buczek, Erin Crosby, Tobia D'Amore, Katie Harvey, Kim Jackson, Kelly Lobaugh, Roger Mahadeen, Chandler Martin, Pat McRoberts, Mike O'Hara, Allen Lewis Rickman and Justin-Michael Youron.
The 7:30 PM Aug. 11 reading is free and open to the public, at the York's home at The Theatre at St. Peter's, in the Citicorp Building, 54th and Lexington Avenue. For reservations, call (212) 935-5824, ext. 24.
Hochhauser and Johnston are also developing a new two character musical, Mud Donahue and Son — about the American song-and-dance man Jack Donahue and his mother — as a vehicle for Sandy Duncan.