Story by Anna Hobbs
When Anne of Green Gables – the Musical opened on Canada Day in Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre, Anne, the feisty redhead with pigtails, captured the hearts of the audience just as Anne of book fame has delighted generations of readers. If ever a role was made for an actor, Anne Shirley was made for AJ Bridel. Spirited, vivacious and bursting with energy, Bridel shares the thrill of being the 18th actor to star in the longest-running musical in Canadian history. She spoke with Vacay.ca about what it’s like to play such an iconic role in a production that has run for 53 seasons and how seeing Prince Edward Island and other parts of the world has impacted her view of life.
VACAY.CA: When did you first get to know Anne of Green Gables?
BRIDEL: My grandmother introduced Anne to me when I was five. I loved her immediately, and I have read all the books.
VACAY.CA: You played Lauren in Kinky Boots and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. How did you feel when you learned you would be Anne (“with an E”) Shirley?
BRIDEL: Anne is a national treasure, and this is a dream role. I was both excited and nervous. Nerves are nothing but fuel. If you’re not a little nervous, you’re missing a source of energy. You just have to harness it favourably.
VACAY.CA: Did getting to know Anne in all the books help you to prepare for the role?
BRIDEL: Usually more information is better. But the musical is not necessarily the book or the series. It’s the musical, and the musical’s script, and you have to give that the respect it deserves. I have fallen in love with the musical more than I thought I could.
VACAY.CA: When did you know you wanted to be in musical theatre?
BRIDEL: My parents loved musicals and I caught the bug at an early age. When I was three, I named my kitten Cosette. As long as I can remember, it was musical theatre where I wanted to go.
VACAY.CA: Where did you study?
BRIDEL: Mainly at the school of life. I was lucky enough to be raised in a place – Kitchener, Ontario – that nurtured creativity. I attended Eastwood Collegiate, an art school that was the starting point for a lot of careers. I’ve taken an online course in creative writing at Queen’s. I love to write short stories and plays for fun. And I like to think of myself as a visual artist – I knit blankets that I give to my family and friends at Christmas. I believe you need to create your own school of life.
VACAY.CA: You just turned 23. How did you prepare to be an 11-year-old on stage?
BRIDEL: It’s harder and easier than you think. The trick is not to overthink it, because that is the joy of kids. Everything is unfiltered. Everything comes from a place of pure truth. But there is definitely preparation, because going from 11 to 16 within two-and-a-half hours requires specific changes – and we all had to find ways to delicately age.
VACAY.CA: And, after all the rehearsals, there was the opening on Canada Day. What was that like?
BRIDEL: It was incredible. I was beside myself – not just to play such an iconic part, but to play it on Canada’s 150th anniversary in Confederation Centre. And the audience was amazing.
VACAY.CA: Anne’s travels brought her from an orphanage in Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island. Where have your travels taken you?
BRIDEL: For work, all over Canada, to the States and the Caribbean. I visited family in Holland and this year, before rehearsals, my boyfriend and I spent two weeks in Italy. This was my first European getaway as an adult. It was fantastic. Now we want to see the world, starting with Iceland, Thailand, Southeast Asia and Greece.
VACAY.CA: What kind of a traveller are you?
BRIDEL: I like to learn as much as possible before I leave, and then leave room for the unexpected. That’s where the magic happens.
VACAY.CA: Do you have a favourite destination?
BRIDEL: In Canada, Banff, Alberta, and PEI.