Lucy Maud Montgomery author of Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery Literary Society
The Nine Lives of L.M. Montgomery
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Leo and Adam-Michael,
Leo and Adam-Michael, Creators of The Nine Lives of LMM, photo by C. Collins <----- listen to the great songs at this site
We are happy to support the work of two dedicated artists and L.M. Montgomery fans, Leo Marchildon and Adam-Michael James. For the last three years they have tapped their common love and appreciation for Prince Edward Island to supply the energy to create a complex and authentic musical based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery. It was successsfully introduced to a workshop audience at the Charlottetown Confederation Centre last September and opened at Kings Playhouse on June 20, 2008.
At the 2008 Montgomery conference, Adam-Michael presented an excellent paper called Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Power of the Imagination. We recommend that readers explore his extensive web site and blog to experience this ambitious and exciting project from start to finish --
The title refers to Maud's life and eight creations -- Anne Shirley, Kilmeny Gordon, Sara Stanley, Emily Starr, Valancy Stirling, Marigold Lesley, Pat Gardiner, and Jane Stuart. Read what Adam-Michael and Leo have to say about bringing LMM herself to the stage ...

Everyone who meets Leo and Adam-Michael in person are swept up by their enthusiasm and passion for nurturing a theater presentation of L.M. Montgomery’s life. They have used their own rich talents in music, composition, and storytelling to bring Montgomery and her creations to the stage for the first time. They have worked together in Los Angeles, California where AMJ has published two books and Leo has written two musicals. Three years ago, Leo, a Canadian, wanted to visit the Maritime Provinces of Canada “to see if they held the same magic they did when he was there as a child.” Neither of them had been to Prince Edward Island and Adam-Michael had never heard of L.M. Montgomery.


Before they went to the island, Leo showed AMJ some of the Kevin Sullivan movie adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and they saw the Anne musical in Charlottetown on a rainy day. Mike says that at this point his reaction was:


Still nothing. The next morning the sun had come out and we went to Cavendish Beach for the first time…and the spell was cast. I got it. I got Prince Edward Island and I got “Anne”. And then Leo said to me, “Why don’t we write a sequel musical to ‘Anne’?”


They returned the next summer only to find that a sequel musical had already been made, “Anne and Gilbert.” So, how did they make the jump from Anne to Maud? Leo explains: “It was suggested by one of the island locals that we might consider the author’s life as a possible source for a musical. At the time, we had little understanding about Maud the woman, but reading of her journals proved that fact is indeed stranger than fiction. We began to observe parallels between her life and those of her fictional characters.”


Adam-Michael didn’t take to the idea at first – “I wanted to write about Anne! But once I started doing the research, I found that Maud’s life was much more interesting – and no one had done this before, either. And from there it sort of took on a life of its own.”


Was this a case of a musical in search of creators or the other way around? Although AMJ had been intrigued about writing a musical before, he does feel that this is project whose time has come. “As the project has gone on, I’ve come to believe that she’d want her story to be told. A large part of the reason she wanted her journals published – albeit edited versions of them – was because, even then, people thought of her as the cheery author of “Anne of Green Gables”. And, even now, with the journals out there for public consumption, people still think of her that way. She lived a life of repression – owing to both social pressures and internal ones – and those journals were her only outlet. But, while it’s fascinating reading overall, it can be hard to take in – but everyone can understand music. So I think a musical is a good way to tell her story.”


Leo adds that “typical of any creative venture, the project had a way of acquiring a life of its own, and the scope of the play broadened to include the materialization of Maud’s other fictional characters, to the point where they become the ones to start telling Maud’s story. The fact that the writing of this play felt so effortless, both in words and in music, suggests that Maud must be looking over our shoulder, guiding us along in her own way. We do feel her presence in this work.”


Montgomery herself described biography as a “screaming farce,” so any adaptation of her life runs a risk in presenting too little or too much authenticity for the range of new to knowledgeable audiences.  Leo understands this dilemma. “The problem was providing enough detail so that fans of Maud would not feel short changed while the uninitiated won’t feel lost and confused. Plots in musicals are typically simplistic in order to make room for songs and dances that may not always advance the plot. We tried here to keep the plot moving through the songs, which explains why so many of our songs are expositional in content. In fact, one can grasp the overall storyline by listening solely to the songs in our show.”


As the wordsmith, AMJ has to wrestle with this responsibility with every edit and re-write. “I feel a responsibility to Maud – and to her worldwide fans – to “get it right”. How many times have you watched a movie or a show based on something you know, only to point at it and go “That’s not right!” “That would never happen!” “They would never say that!” That happens to me a lot, and I wasn’t about to create something that would elicit the same kind of reaction. We did have to fabricate a couple of things, move a couple of quotes around, for dramatic purposes. But we have tried as hard as possible to stay true to her experience. And the experience of those around her … we asked as many questions about the important people in Maud’s life as we did about Maud herself -- especially her husband Ewan. It’s very easy, when depicting mental illness, to come off as one-dimensional. But Ewan was a human being, so we’ve tried to flesh him out as much as possible, so that, when he does get sick, you feel for him. We’ve tried to put a human spin on everyone – Maud’s grandparents, her son Chester, everyone … Maud’s life was complicated, and of course we can only tell so much about it. But, if it piques people’s interest, if it encourages them to read her journals, to read her other novels, then that’s probably the biggest “farce-preventer” of them all.”


Leo and Adam-Michael also plan to project film images of Montgomery “landscapes” rather than use painted sets that are the usual setting for theater productions. Leo believes that audiences are receptive to the use of mixed media in theater. “I suspect the public has had more exposure to film than with stage in recent years, partly due to the relatively high cost of theatre ticket prices. Whether that is so or not, people seem to be more comfortable seeing a screen working on stage behind actors than ever before … Maud described her island as if it was an actual character, and its beauty is captured by footage of the surroundings from which she was so inspired. These ‘living paintings’ replace the need for sets and allow for quick transitions between scenes. The visuals can also serve to reflect Maud’s emotional world and discolour or fade as her life gets darker.”


Adam-Michael also emphasizes how images of locations help place Montgomery within the context of her beloved home places. “We’re using [film] for practicality – since we cover over 60 years, the story has to be told in vignettes, and you can’t wait a minute between each scene for things to be moved around the stage. The screen helps us establish time and place with very little actual set dressing. Also, because Maud was such an ardent nature lover, it allows us to show her outside – in Lover’s Lane, for example, with the trees swaying behind her. It allows for a little bit of smoke and mirrors – dividing the stage, for example, to have action happening in two different places. We can set mood and tone by discolouring images. The possibilities are endless. And it does make what might otherwise be a rather dry story easier to take in. It gives us a chance to show where Maud lived and worked – we’re filming several actual locales. It’s almost like an advertisement for Prince Edward Island! So it will introduce people to the beauty of the Island, and perhaps persuade them to make a visit for themselves.”


And finally, with Anne of Green Gables, it’s all about imagination, as AMJ says:


The other thing I want to mention is our ultimate theme, which is the power of the imagination. There’s an increasing school of thought that suggests what we think about creates our experiences, and I’ve been a student of that in recent years. I’ve seen it work in both positive and negative ways in my own life. And it seemed to be in effect in Maud’s life, too. She used the power of the imagination in a very positive way to create these iconic characters that we’re still talking about today – but she tended to use it in a more negative way in her personal life, and her increasingly negative attitude…well, it’s not to say she brought her suffering on herself, but she certainly contributed to it. So, even more than Maud’s life story, the show’s theme is “Be careful what you think about!”  

Confederation Centre Workshop Presentation
LMM Musical rehearsals

Watch this CBC TV Feature from 
21 September 2007
at this link:
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