The Secret Garden is a story of love and loss, of redemption and healing. More to the point: it’s a story of magical healing. And Theatre Raleigh’s current production of this musical captures every ounce of that magic, creating a moving, uplifting experience that is not to be missed.
With music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden opened on Broadway in 1991, and was nominated for seven Tony Awards®, and won three of them, in addition to three 1991 Drama Desk Awards.
It is the story of Mary Lennox, a young British girl living in India, who wakes up one morning to find herself orphaned by a cholera epidemic. She is shipped back to England to live with her uncle in his “house on the hill” in Yorkshire. This uncle, Archibald Craven, is a widower. His wife, Lily, was Mary’s mother’s sister.
Lily died while giving birth to Mary’s cousin Colin, now 10 years old. Colin has spent his entire life chronically ill and bed-ridden; and Archibald’s brother, Dr. Neville Craven, has been caring for Colin all these years.
Although the powers-that-be try to keep her from him, Mary befriends Colin. And, with the help of Yorkshire locals Ben Weatherstaff, Dickon, and Martha, Mary undertakes to rehabilitate a locked-up and hidden garden that had been Lily’s garden. They pursue this goal in secret, and the results are miraculous.
Director Tim Seib has done an excellent job of casting. We could not be more emphatic when we say that Skyla Woodard is perfect for the role of Mary Lennox. At first petulant and self-centered, Mary morphs into a kind, determined person.
Woodard navigates this transformation with aplomb. And she capably sings, dances, and acts her way through every scene. Watch, especially, the changes spurred by her contact with Dickon.
Keegan Story is every bit as adept in the role of Colin. Colin is frightened and spoiled. While gaining our empathy, Story manages to elicit laughter from the audience during some moments that, in less capable hands, would generate nothing more than a small amount of pity.
As Archibald Craven, Michael Halling shows us a man who is haunted by his memories and crippled by feelings of guilt. In the memory/dream sequences, Halling’s Archibald is appropriately different; and there never is any doubt about his love for and devotion to Lily and her memory. Through Hallings’ singing, we felt Archibald’s longings and grief so deeply that it seemed that we had been touched by his very soul.
DJ Canaday’s portrayal of Dr. Neville Craven definitely shows a man with a secret. Halling and Canaday deliver a stupendous rendition of “Lily’s Eyes.” This moving number garnered the greatest measure of applause on opening night (Aug. 15th).
Jenny Latimer (as Lily), Austeen Grey (as Rose), and Derek Robinson (as Albert) sing hauntingly and move ethereally in the dream sequences, often accompanied by the Ensemble, who perform equally well. Grey also has an amusing bit when Lily and Rose visit the garden in one of these scenes.
David Bartlett is a crowd-pleaser as Ben Weatherstaff, the old gardener who initiates Mary’s interest in “a bit of earth”; and Nick Petrelli plays a dynamic Dickon. We could feel the magic in Dickon’s staff as he wields it, and we got the feeling that Dickon had actually conjured up Spring when Petrelli sang “Winter’s on the Wing.”
The chemistry between Nick Petrelli and Skyla Woodard is phenomenal. The power of Dickon’s staff seems to flow into Mary when Dickon hands it to her during that song. And their later duet, “Wick” is infused with magic on more than one level.
As Martha, the third Yorkshire-ite, Mallory Hawks makes it easy for us to believe the influence that she gently exerts on Mary. Lisette Glodowski’s Ayah and Jacob Barton’s Fakir bring the magic of the East to Yorkshire. Glodowski and Barton strike appropriate postures to convey this impression.
Bonnie Webster (as Mrs. Medlock) captures the essence of the concerned housekeeper who wants to do the right thing for everyone concerned. And the Ensemble is superb. Carly Prentis Jones, Taylor Kraft, Sean McCracken, and Tristan Parks are always on point.
Under Tim Seib’s direction, the play flows smoothly and seamlessly. Everything is so well-paced and captivating that the show seems much shorter than it is. On musical director Joanna Li’s watch, all of the numbers — the solos, the duets, the ensemble numbers … — all are performed to perfection.
Doubling as keyboardist, Joanna Li leads a talented band of musicians, including Tim Dyess, Linda Land, Michael Mole, Andrew Munger, Michael Santangelo, and John Simonetti. And the dance numbers are also top-notch. Choreographer Sherry Lee Allen has coached flawless performances from every member of the cast.
Technical director Chris Bernier and stage manager Mette CJ Schladweiller lead a first-rate team in the production department. The set (designed by Michael McClain) includes a garden-themed proscenium up front and outlines of a garden forming the base at the back.
There are moveable arches that are repositioned when scenes change, and there are various set pieces that are brought in on wheels. These transitions were well-choreographed and executed with precision by the actors.
Costume designer LeGrande Smith serves up a visual feast of beautiful, authentic early 20th century clothing for the cast. Christina Munich’s lighting design is brilliant. Specific highlights: distinct lighting choices augmented the transitions between the scenes in the present and those in the dream-sequence past, and judicious use of follow-spots to supplement the focused lighting kept the more active song-and-dance scenes properly (and seamlessly) lit.
From The Department of Picky-Picky: (1.) Martha was a bit difficult to understand in her first scene on opening night. We suspected a problem with the volume of her microphone, and the issue had been corrected after her first song. (2.) Archibald’s hump-on-his-back was somewhat understated; we might not have even noticed it had it not been referred to in the dialogue. This may have been deliberate — this production may have intended to accentuate the idea that his handicap/deformity was more “in everyone’s mind.” We, however, felt it detracted from such moments as Colin’s “Round-Shouldered Man” and the discussions of Archibald between Rose and Lily. (3.) We would have liked to have seen Dickon’s staff in Colin’s hands for a moment (however brief) during a crucial scene. (4.) Kudos to the uncredited dialogue coach — there was a definite distinction between the accents of the Yorkshire-ites and the others!
Theatre Raleigh’s The Secret Garden in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts’ A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater runs this week only — just seven more performances between now and Sunday, Aug. 20th. This production is nothing less than sensational, and we heartily recommend it.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 15th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Sarah Lindenfeld Hall for “Go Ask Mom”: http://www.wral.com/theatre-raleigh-opens-the-secret-garden-/16882507/; and Aug. 9th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-secret-garden/Event?oid=7115617. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 14th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/08/1991-tony-winner-the-secret-garden-brings-frances-hodgson-burnetts-1911-novel-to-life/.)
Theatre Raleigh presents THE SECRET GARDEN at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 and 17, 8 p.m. Aug. 18, and 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 19 and 20 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.50 and up.
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S610000035dUDEAY.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or email@example.com.
SHOW: https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S610000035dUDEAY and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/the-secret-garden-8125.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://vimeo.com/229400130 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WW1CXdaaKYE&feature=youtu.be.
“HOT SUMMER NIGHTS” SEASON: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/2017-season/.
PRESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Theatre-Raleigh/349124511834045, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
NOTE: For details on a special Dinner in The Secret Garden, please click here (top of page).
The Secret Garden (1911 children’s novel): https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Secret-Garden#ref1241810 (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_Garden (Wikipedia).
The Novel: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=rbc3&fileName=rbc0001_2002juv21580page.db (Library of Congress).
Frances Hodgson Burnett (British-American novelist and playwright, 1849-1924): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frances-Hodgson-Burnett (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/frances-hodgson-burnett-5557 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Hodgson_Burnett (Wikipedia).
The Secret Garden (1991 Broadway musical): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/471/secret-garden-the (Samuel French, Inc.), http://marshanorman.com/works/musicals/the-secret-garden/(Marsha Norman’s website), http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/shows_s/secretgarden.htm (The Guide to Musical Theatre), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-secret-garden-7825 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_Garden_(musical) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.bard.org/study-guides/the-secret-garden-study-guide (Utah Shakespearean Festival).
Lucy Simon (music): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lucy-simon-12410 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0800254/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Simon (Wikipedia).
Marsha Norman (book and lyrics): http://marshanorman.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/marsha-norman-7556 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0635568/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsha_Norman (Wikipedia).
Tim Seib (Theatre Raleigh guest director): http://www.timseib.com/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/timseib (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.