Since we’re reviewing the new musical version of “Pollyanna” at the Villa Playhouse, let’s do as its chipper young protagonist would advise and play the “Glad Game.”
1. We’re glad this stage version of the classic novel, written by local resident Rene A. Sheets, stays close to the original story with no obvious modernizations or tweakings. Pollyanna (double-cast between Jessica Woahn and Ariel Leigh Jensen; no indication was given at the show, nor did the theater return multiple phone calls, to say which girl played the role when I saw it) is orphaned and must live in a huge rich-people mansion with her dour aunt Polly (Carolyn J. Stevens, also the director), in a town full of equally dour townsfolk. Through her optimism — including the “Glad Game,” which we are currently playing, and which involves finding the good in every situation — Pollyanna makes everyone happy.
The characters and situations are established in the first few minutes; the rest of the first act ambles about leisurely. Things actually start happening after intermission: We find out the source of Polly’s dourness, makes us glad, and Pollyanna herself suffers a crisis and yet manages to be glad through it.
2. This is a musical version of “Pollyanna” (as if the original story weren’t cheerful enough!), with songs by Carol B. Daniels, Rene A. Sheets and Randy Morris. We’re glad most of the music and orchestrations (by Brian Jensen and Steven Smith) are well-done, even if a majority of the lyrics are rather lame. (Pollyanna’s declaration upon seeing her new home: “I can’t wait to be rich/It would make me very glad/I can’t wait to be rich/I don’t think I could be sad.” Or, if you prefer, the Zen-like ruminations of the hired help: “All we ever do is work/Work is all we ever do.”)
3. We’re glad director Stevens had the good sense to cast herself as Aunt Polly, as she is one of the most talented performers on the stage, with a beautiful voice. We only wish the character had more stage time. But we’re glad she gets to sing the show’s best-written number, lyrically and musically (“I Know My Duty”).
4. We’re also glad for the casting of Michael Hadley as Pollyanna’s young friend Jimmy Bean. Hadley is confident and lively in his role, and is one of the few supporting cast members who doesn’t seem to be feeling awkward onstage. Again, we wish he had more stage time.
5. We’re glad Pollyanna herself manages to comes across as happy and cheerful without being perky or bubbly. Let’s face it, a constant, aggressive barrage of optimism can get annoying after a while, but Pollyanna’s never does here.
6. We’re glad the shrill Mrs. Potter (Alauna Tucker) and her disciple Mrs. White (Nancy Rolfe), two hypocritical high-society ladies, only appear for a total of five minutes or so. They and their Ladies’ Aid Society associates are annoying in the extreme — the most flatly written and poorly developed characters in the show.
7. We’re glad to have a different format in which to write a review every now and then.
I was not unaware of the irony inherent in saying anything negative in a review of "Pollyanna," so I played the Glad Game. I kind of liked it; at least it was different from the way I usually have to write them.
I was prepared for this show to be perfectly awful. I mean, it's "Pollyanna," for crying out loud, and locally written. And a musical! But it turned out pretty well, and I was pleasantly surprised.