Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Secret Garden"

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entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone

"The Secret Garden"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at Un-common Theatre is the Tony Award winning musical, "The Secret Garden". The show is based on the 1911 classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and tells the haunting story of Mary Lennox, a lonely little girl who must leave her home in India after being orphaned by a cholera epidemic and of her struggle to free the inhabitants of a gloomy Yorkshire mansion who are emotionally imprisoned by a tragic memory. She is sent to England to live with her uncle Archibald, a hunchback, who is still haunted by his deceased wife, Lily, who died ten years earlier in childbirth. Over the years he has become more eccentric and isolated from reality, over the condition of his supposedly crippled, bedridden son, Colin. Mary's discovery of Lily's cherished garden changes their lives forever,brings her departed aunt's neglected garden back to life, along with the spirit and soul of her grieving uncle and the health of her fragile, bedridden cousin. Mrs. Burnett's belief in spiritualism is carried through in this version with the ghosts leading their friends and families to a better life, Mary's story unfolds in dark visions of haunted hallways. a moving, dancing maze, portraits that come to life and, through some simple but created stagecraft, a breathtaking garden blooms before the audience's eyes. Topnotch direction and choreography by Michael La Fleur brings the heart and soul of this emotionally charged musical to life with fantastic music direction by Esther Zabinski, leading their 29 member cast in this must see show of this Spring season.

Michael's expert direction obtains the best performance from these young people and his blocking is wonderful, too. Esther garners a tremendous vocal sound from her cast with glorious voices as well as a top flight orchestra, too. The unit set was designed by Michael Texiera and built by Henry Beckvold. The gorgeous costumes are by Chris Lowey and lighting is by Michael, too. This talented cast is lead by Deirdre Pedersen as Mary, who learned a massive amount of dialogue and captures the petulant behavior perfectly as well as Mary's eventual warming up to become a better person. Deirdre is a hoot in the two scenes where Mary yells at Colin about hating him and that he doesn't have a hump on his back and also in the tantrum scene when she casts her spell on Neville, Mrs. Medlock and the horrible, teacher, Mrs. Winthrop. She sings in several songs with her lovely voice being heard in her solos "Someone is Crying" where she wanders through the mansion and finds Colin, "The Girl I Mean To Be" where she imagines what the garden will be like and "Letter Song" where she writes to Archibald in Paris to return home. She pulls the heartstrings of the crowd with her heartfelt portrayal. Johnny Fullerton is terrific as Archibald Craven. His magnificent tenor voice fills the theatre in "A Bit of Earth" where he realizes Mary likes the garden just like his wife, Lily did, "Race You to the Top of the Morning" where he reads a story to Colin, willing him to get well and run with him and "Where in the World" where he contemplates never returning home again. Johnny also has two gorgeous duets, one with his brother, Neville, called "Lily's Eyes" where both of them admit having loved Lily and both realize that Mary has Lily's eyes and the other duet with Lily called "How Could I Ever Know" where Johnny has tears in his eyes. There are many poignant moments throughout the show but one of the most touching ones comes when Archie sees his son cured and decides to keep Mary with him after finally seeing the miracle of the secret garden. Johnny is a senior in Mansfield High School and I've watched him get better each time from "Thoroughly Modern Millie" in 2008 on. Lily, the ghostly wife who died before her time, is played splendidly by Katie Beckvold. She has a fabulous soprano voice which sends chills up your spine. Her voice soars in "A Girl in the Valley" with Archibald, The Quartet with Archie, Neville and Rose as well as the electrifying, "Come to My Garden'' with Colin singing in counterpoint with her. This song is reminiscent of "Gone With the Wind". The harmonies standout in these numbers. Katie's character brings life to the dreary and mysterious house as this kindhearted spirit. 12 year old Andrew Purdy plays Colin, the supposedly crippled boy with a huge temper. His tantrum scenes are excellently played as he yells at Medlock, Martha and Betsy, the maids and Mary. Andrew's beautiful and strong voice is heard in his first song called "Round Shouldered Man" where he sings about the stories he has heard while being confined to his bed and again in the astounding duet "Come to My Garden'' with his mother, Lily who persuades him to visit the garden to regain his health.This role is another feather in Andrew's cap.

The comic characters in this Gothic tale are the characters of Martha, Dickon and Ben. Sarra Forti plays the sassy but uneducated maid who is assigned to take care of Mary. Her brogue and comic delivery are wonderful as are her two numbers called "If I Had a White Horse" where she tries to cheer Mary up by telling her to go outside and play with a jump rope that Martha had given her and "Hold On" where she inspires Mary to keep on helping Colin by staying in the house and encourages her to write a letter to Archie to keep her in England. Ryan Larkin is Dickon, Martha's brother, who is able to communicate with nature with his magical abilities and he charms Mary out of her doldrums. He uses his tenor voice in "Winter's on the Way" and "Wick" where he teaches Mary how to make flowers grow. Sarra and Ryan sing "Come Spirit, Come Charm" with Katie when they give Colin the courage to stand up from his wheelchair at last. This is a heartbreaking scene. Ben, Lily's faithful gardener is played by Corey Cadigan. He is a hoot as this curmudgeon who refuses to put up with Mary's bad behavior when he first meets her. Corey has some funny lines in the show and makes them all hit pay dirt. He gets to show off his voice with Katie in "It's a Maze" when he describes the garden to her.

The two villains of this piece are Dr. Neville Craven and Mrs. Medlock played by Sean Neary and Olivia Losiewicz. Sean plays this bitter man who feels trapped inside a house that he feels should rightfully be his as well as having to take care of a boy no one wants. He shows off his strong baritone voice in "Lily's Eyes" with Archie, "Quartet" with Archie, Lily and Rose and "Disappear" where Neville wants to be rid of Mary to have the house return to its dismal state. Olivia is topnotch as this Dickens type of housekeeper who wants everyone to obey her every command. Mary's parents, Albert and Rose Lennox are played by Lloyd Hewitt and Kelly Newton. He is the more caring parent while she is only interested in parties. Both of them have terrific voices as do the ghostly chorus members from India as they wander about the house, trying to help Mary make the transition to her new home. The person Mary learned her spells and mysticism from in India is Ayah played by Sarah Gibson. She uses her lovely voice singing with the chorus as well as singing the Indian version of "Come Spirit, Come Charm". Kudos to everyone who make this a show to be very proud of. So for a look back at one of the best selling books of all time which has been turned into a dynamic musical, be sure to catch this splendid rendition of "The Secret Garden". Tell them Tony sent you.

"The Secret Garden" (1 - 3 April)
@ Orpheum Theatre, 1 School Street, FOXBORO MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide