The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett's much-loved children's story, "The Secret Garden," written almost a century ago, was turned into a musical by Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) with music by Lucy Simon, older sister of singer/songwriter Carly Simon. It opened on Broadway in 1991, and ran for 709 performances. There have been two film versions, in 1949 and 1993, and even a TV movie in 1987.

Now it is being staged at the Camelot Theatre in Talent as devised by Marsha Norman who has developed the adult characters more. Thanks to an analysis prepared by Livia Genise, Camelot's artistic director points out that four of the characters are haunted by what they have lost: the youngster Mary Lennox who lost her parents and Ayah from cholera in India; the hunchback Archibald Craven whose wife Lily died giving birth to their son Colin; and Doctor Neville Craven, Archibald's brother, whose love for Lily was unrequited.

Lily appears throughout the play as a healing presence. There are 10 characters, collectively referred to as "The Dreamers." They are people from Mary's life in India and are used as a theatrical device to create an ensemble. Rebecca K. Campbell, the director and choreographer, says, "The show is almost all music. It's like an operetta with no dialogue. It requires some hefty part singing, sometimes in five- or six-part harmony." Marian Horton as Lily is lovely to look at and lovely to listen to, and is matched with the strong and resonant voice of Andrew Brock as Archibald Craven. Mark Reppert is the musical director; Aaron Blenkush is on keyboards, Joanna Lynden on synthesizer, and an on-stage musician, Karl Iverson, who plays the sitar, and for good measure also plays the role of the fakir.

There is no "hit" tune, but there is a haunting refrain, "Come to My Garden," as well as Archibald's "Where in the World" and his duet with Lily, "How Could I Ever Know?"

The young actors truly enter into the spirit of the play. Amanda Andersen as Martha, the chambermaid, handles the song "A Fine White Horse" to encourage Mary on her first morning at the manor. And as for Mary, Caitlin Campbell is delightful and not without fire when the occasion arises. It is a role she shares with Julia Holden-Hunkins. And how about Alexa Nienhaus as the bird Robin? She is a darling, fluttering around in a captivating red and black garb, the handiwork of costume designer Barbara Rains. Then there is the Colin of Jaime DiMaria as he emerges from a long sufferance of sickness. This is a role shared with Emma DiFruscia. I commend the fresh and ingratiating performance of Michael Maisonneuve as Dickon, Martha's brother.

The scenic design and properties construction are by Donald Zastoupil. He uses a screen on which are projected various images, such as Lily singing, the entrance to the secret garden, and lightning in a storm.

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), novelist and playwright, was born in Manchester, England; then her family immigrated to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1856. Many years later, she returned to England and rented Great Maytham Manor in Rolvenden, Kent. A high-walled garden there, it is believed, gave her the idea for "The Secret Garden." She died at her home in Plandome on Long Island's north shore. Another of her famous books "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1856) was made into a movie in 1936 with Freddie Bartholomew in the title role.

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