‘The Secret Garden’ wows audience members

Zoe Rogers, ‘Doah Staff Writer
February 26, 2014

'Doah photo by Caroline Madden

‘Doah photo by Caroline Madden

“The Secret Garden,” a musical based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, opened at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on Friday, Feb. 21. Under the direction of Carolyn Coulson, Shenandoah Conservatory performers put on an impressive production of the musical, written by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon.

One solitary rose could be seen projected on the stage curtain as audience-members took to their seats, rustled their playbills and filled the theatre with an excited chatter.

The symbolic importance of the rose is evident throughout the performance and even merits mention in the Director’s Note, which quotes a line from the musical. “The strongest roses will fair thrive on bein’ neglected, if the soil is rich enough”.

The musical is set in the early 20th Century and follows the story of a young, surly, Mary Lennox who is sent to live in Yorkshire, England with her widowed Uncle Archibald Craven. Mary leaves behind her life in British Imperial India following the loss of her parents to cholera epidemic.

As Mary adjusts to life in Misselthwaite Manor, where many a secret are held, Yorkshire locals Martha, Dickon and Ben Weatherstaff help dispel her curt disposition and reveal instead, her determinedness and curiosity.

This curiosity leads to Mary’s discovery of a secret garden, once belonging to her deceased Aunt Lily. As spring brings the garden to life, so the garden brings a new lease-of-life to the residents of Misselthwaite Manor.

A simple but effective stage setting, designed by William J. Pierson and Peter Everly, allowed the audience to reflect on the musical’s themes of loss, isolation and love through the use of lighting and placement of props.

The garden itself is staged with enough adornment and beauty to give the audience a tangible sense of its enchantment and the new life it will bring.

Just as winter thaws to make way for spring in this musical, so too do character’s develop and evolve. Mary, as played by Kacey Willis, first appears impertinent and cold but her surly nature soon evaporates leaving a residue of strength that will only strengthen those around her.

Colin Craven, Mary’s sickly cousin played by Leah Wedge, too undergoes a coming-of-age like no other.

The audience experiences a delicate balance of dry humor, heartache and hope in this musical. A stirring performance of “Lily’s eyes” by Rafeal Martinez-Salgado and Jeremy Ward, as Archibald and Dr. Neville Craven, echoes the theme of loss and isolation as the death of Lily is seen through the two brothers’ eyes. Kelsee Sweigard, as Martha, performed an uplifting rendition of “Hold on,” encapsulating a sense of hope that the audience responded to emphatically.

Mary, Martha, Colin and Dickon, as played by Caleb Forsythe, performed a dynamic “Come spirit, come charm” that signaled a shift in the atmosphere of this musical. The spirits of the deceased characters in this story join the four main characters in their chorus.

Throughout the musical, the spirits help to add depth to the story, guide the main characters and speak the unspoken to the audience. In particular, the spirit of Lily, as played by Sarah Beckwith, delivers sweet, captivating, solo and duet performances that push the main characters to the resolution of their woes.

With a touching finale and a standing ovation, it was clear the cast, along with the orchestra, directed by Thomas Albert, did justice to this coming-of-age musical. “The Secret Garden” ran from Feb. 21 until Feb. 23.


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