note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Janine de Souza
Looking for a hidden gem in your own backyard? Look no further than Brookline’s own Wheelock Family Theatre which is currently producing THE SECRET GARDEN.
THE SECRET GARDEN, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is a young girl’s struggle to acclimatize to her new surroundings. It’s a tale of the ebb and flow of life, renewal and growth, and the seed of hope and change that lies deep within all of us. Wheelock took Burnett's book and has adapted it for their young audience. Oh, so they dumbed it down, you say? No! With new book and lyrics by Susan Kosoff and original music by Jane Staff, THE SECRET GARDEN is streamlined, straightforward, and suddenly accessible. My 5 year old sat mesmerized for over two hours!
Mary Lennox (Katherine Leigh Doherty) arrives from India to live in the English countryside after the tragic death of her parents. Besides the obvious lack of sun, there is also a severe lack of humor and fun. There are no jump ropes, toys, or anything to keep a young girl’s attention or her spirits up. Despondent and aloof, Mary finally lets her guard and class consciousness down and befriends a rough-n-tumble groundskeeper named Ben Weatherstaff (Neil Gustafson), the ever affable housemaid Martha Sowerby (Jennifer Beth Glick), her adventurous son Dickon (Andrew Barbato), as well as a very smart robin. The robin guides her to a neglected garden. This tiny enclosed plot is alive with the memory of her aunt’s tragic death and thick undergrowth. It’s nothing that a little hard work and sweat can’t fix as Dickon and Mary work to make it a magical and happy place again. But shhhhhhh…….it’s their secret. Before long though, her sickly cousin, Master Colin Craven (Ellis Gage), is in on the fun too. He, like everyone else, re-energizes to the possibilities that life has to offer. The actors, especially Doherty, keep the story moving forward with conviction. Standout singing by Gustafson, Glick, and Gage in “Tha’ an’ Me Are Alike,” “But for the Garden,” as well as “If You Are Ill,” catapults this production upward.
Helping to provide this metamorphosis visually is the clever set design by Matthew T. Lazure. The wall to the garden rotates and you are truly surprised when an upstairs room reveals itself after Mary “discovers” the cloistered Colin. With the help of musical director and orchestrator, Jonathon Goldberg, Jane Staab’s beautiful songs blossom onstage. It’s a group effort that pays off.
With THE SECRET GARDEN, spring has finally come to Boston. This production runs until February 27. Go see it and be transformed!