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Burnaby actor helps bring Anne of Green Gables musical to life

Anthony Santiago is part of Gateway Theatre's musical adaptation of the Lucy Maud Montgomery classic, playing from Dec. 16 to Dec. 31.
Krya Leroux as Anne Shirley and Anthony Santiago as Matthew Cuthbert.

Over many generations, Canadians have been in love with Anne Shirley, the 11-year old talkative red-haired orphan who finally finds a home at the Green Gables.

The 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables has spawned a whole industry, with many books, movies and musical adaptations arising from the poignant story of Anne Shirley, who arrives in Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, full of hope for a new life.

For this year’s holiday season, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic is set to come to life onstage at the Gateway Theatre, as artists from Metro Vancouver tell the story through music and dance.

“The story itself is just such a lovely, beautiful heartwarming story,” said Burnaby-based actor Anthony Santiago, who who plays Matthew Cuthbert in the musical. “It's no wonder that [the story has] endured for over 100 years. It's just that good, beautiful and positive.”

Barbara Tomasic, director of the holiday musical adaptation, said that the story is a timeless classic about love, acceptance and bringing people together, and is a wonderful way to embrace the essence of the holidays with family and friends.

“It brings laughter and joy to the stage,” Tomasic said. “Anne of Green Gables is a story you can enjoy over and over again, and it is no surprise that it’s Canada’s favourite musical.”

Anne of Green Gables – The Musical, written by Donald Harron with music by Norman Campbell, is at the Gateway Theatre from Dec. 15 to 31.

Appearing as Anne Shirley in the musical is actress Kyra Leroux, of Riverdale fame, who played Britta Beach in the CW series.

New West actor Katey Wright, known to the Gateway audiences from her role in A Little Night Music, and Burnaby's Santiago, known for Stratford Festival’s Death And The King's Horseman, play the Cuthbert siblings, who welcome Anne into their home.

The NOW spoke to Santiago about his career and his involvement in the current production.

Santiago began working as an actor more than 25 years ago and has appeared in musicals, movies, and TV shows. After a 17-year hiatus from the craft, Santiago has been back for about five years.

“I feel like the new kid on the block in many ways,” he said. “Every show is still an exciting adventure and I still feel like the new kid even though I'm the age of a lot of the kids’ parents in the cast.”

Q&A: Anthony Santiago

As an actor, where do you enjoy performing the most: plays or movies and television?

I've done some TV. I was a recurring character in a series called Motherland: Fort Salem. But I really love theatre. It's something that I grew up with. I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. At that time, Edmonton had the most theatre companies per capita in North America. So, theatre is the one that I am drawn to; the one I love the most. And it feels more organic for me [as an actor] because it changes from performance to performance, which is always exciting, not just for myself but also for the audience.

Is there a reason why you gravitated more towards theatre?

I started professionally when I was 14. And [theatre] is the place I feel most at home and at ease. Film and TV is a great opportunity — more people see you, the money is great. But it's a process that doesn't work as well for me, organically.

I need time to figure out my character, to figure out the relationships with their characters. Film and TV is quite quick — by the time we've done two takes we're ready to move on to something else.

And the best thing would be its audience. It’s the visceral responses, the feedback you get, whether it's a laugh or shock followed by loud exclamation, those are the things that are exciting because you get a sense that they are a part of the storytelling and the audience is with you.

You said you took a break for 17 years from acting. What led you to taking a break and then coming back years later?

I took a break because I was raising a young family. I was on the road a lot prior to my break, which was hard on the family. So I went back to school and did graphic design. But five to six years ago, there were some life changes and I wasn't happy doing what I was doing, so I decided to see a friend who was an artistic director of a theatre company called Ensemble Theatre Company in Vancouver. I asked him if I am I too old to come back and he said that you're never too old if you have the desire and the will to do it. And that was it.

It's like it's like a homecoming in many ways. Coming back to it [performing], I didn't realize how much I missed it, and how much I enjoy being in the rehearsal hall with other people or being on stage. It's been a tremendously wonderful gift to be able to return and do a show like Anne of Green Gables.

What makes Anne of Green Gables so loved, even now a century later?

When we meet her, she's 11 years old, and she's been through it all: she's an orphan, she's been moving from household to household, and yet, when she comes to Green Gables, she has the most amazing and beautiful outlook to the world that she lives in. There's so much positive messaging. And then there's humor and beautiful, poignant moments that everyone can relate to. 

What went into your preparation for the show and as the Cuthbert brother?

Matthew Cuthbert is a lovely character. He is extremely shy. He doesn't get involved in much, he's keeps to himself. And I think there's elements of myself in him. I'm not an extroverted person, I do prefer my own company. So there's so many elements of Matthew that I understand. And what I love about him is how he changes through the play when he meets Anne and the growth and the openness and ultimately the love that he shows. And it's fascinating to see how this character, who people paint as being quiet and to himself, slowly starts to open up. It's a beautiful metaphor for community and the strength and positivity of community in helping to change one another and to grow. I'm honoured to be able to play him.

What did you learn about yourself as you prepared for the character?

It's finding new parts of myself that I never explored before or wasn't aware that's there.That's the thing I love about acting — you you can look within you can and observe the world.

What do you hope people learn from the musical/the story?

I hope people take away a sense of adventure, of love and they are moved to honour themselves. One of the things that Anne says is, "Gee, I'm glad I'm no one else but me," which is a bold statement for anyone to say, no matter how old you are.

And I think that's something that each and every one of us can try to learn from. We have different experiences. We've got different viewpoints. And it's okay to have that. You don't necessarily have to conform to everyone else. You are good as who you are, and to love that. 

The musical opens Friday, Dec. 16, and runs until Dec. 31. 

The performance on Dec. 30 will be accompanied by a live audio description, described in real-time to listeners who are blind, partially sighted, or visually impaired.

Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased at

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