Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Secret Garden"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


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entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone

"The Secret Garden"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The third show of Theatre-by-the-Sea's 70th season is the Tony Award-winning musical, "The Secret Garden". The show is based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and tells the story of Mary Lennox, a lonely little girl who must leave her home in India after being orphaned by a cholera epidemic. She is sent to England to leave 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. Mrs. Burnett's belief in spiritualism is carried through in this version with the ghosts leading their friends and family to a better life. Expert direction and choreography is supplied by Andrew Glant-Linden and the phenomenal music direction is by 22 year old Karl Shymanovitz. They lead this 23 member cast in a triumphant evening of musical entertainment, making it the must see show of this summer season.

Andrew who directed last season's, "Jekyll & Hyde", does the same magnificent job on "The Secret Garden". He tackles these huge gothic type musicals and directs and blocks them so well that the audience gets the greatest pleasure from them in their pathos and comic aspects. Andrew's eye for detail is not only observed in the acting and dancing but to the set and movement of set pieces on and off the stage, which keeps the show constantly moving from scene to scene. He casts all the roles to perfection, proving his strength as an outstanding director. Karl returns to TBTS for his fourth season. This young man is one of the best musicians and musical directors around. Karl not only taught all the numbers to the 23 member cast but plays lead keyboards and conducts the other 8 orchestra members, too. The gorgeous score is given its due with Karl at the helm with all the vocals and orchestrations. He recently finished teaching music at the University of Michigan and will be moving to New York in the fall where he will be entertaining Broadway audiences for years to come. The gorgeous costumes for this show are by David T. Howard who always does a fantastic job no matter how many cast members there are. The ball gowns for the opening party scene are splendid with my favorite one being rose colored brocade worn by Mary's mother. The huge set pieces, stairways, scrims and beautiful garden backdrop are by Jeff Modereger who has been doing this job for the past seven years. The miniature of the mansion, the chandeliers and the portrait frames are some of his best set work this season. Kenton Yeager supplies the mood lighting for all the scenes while Walter Trarbach's sound enhances the fabulous voices of the cast. (Walter also performs his signature song in the cabaret, "South of the Border" which he does while doing a split during it. His accompanist is long time friend, musical director Karl Shymanovitz.) Beverly Brennan is Andrew's assistant director and Amanda Waterhouse is the stage manager who keeps things in control backstage. Congrats to the crew for running a tight show on press night.

This incredible cast is led by Casey McIntyre as Mary Lennox. She is a young girl who has some impressive credentials, having appeared as Marta in "The Sound Of Music" tour in 2000-2001 and as the little girl in "Ragtime" tour in 2001-2002 which made her a member of Actors' Equity at a very young age. Casey really shines in her scenes with a strong acting ability and sings with confidence with the older cast members. Some of her solo numbers include "Someone is Crying" where she wanders the mansion and finds Colin, and "The Girl I Mean To Be" where she imagines what the garden will be like. Casey's tantrum scenes are also wonderful especially when she casts her spells on Neville, Mrs. Medlock and the horribly strict, miserable teacher, Mrs. Winthrop.( The latter is played to perfection by Kyrst Hogan who reminds you of all the teachers you hated in school.) Broadway veteran actor and Barrington, RI native, Norman Large is terrific as Archibald Craven. His majestic voice fills the theatre in "A Bit of Earth" where he realizes Mary likes gardens like his wife, Lily, "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 suicide but Lily rescues him by bringing him back home to her garden. Another gorgeous number is Norman's duet with his brother called "Lily's Eyes" where both of them realize Mary has Lily's eyes and the audience finds out his brother was also in love with Lily. His most moving scene is when he finally sees Colin standing and running about in the secret garden. Bravo on a job well done. One of the other outstanding voices in this show belongs to Tristan Viner-Brown who plays Colin. This young boy's voice soars off the charts in his first number called "Round-Shouldered Man" where he sings about the stories he has heard all these years while being confined to his bed. Tristian's crystal clear tones are outstanding and his boy soprano fills the theatre with its power. His other song is a duet with his mother, sung in counterpoint called "Come To My Garden". Tristan is a native Rhode Islander and attends Wheeler School in Providence and is definitely headed for the bright lights of New York. Lisa Trader who plays Lily is a Trinity Conservatory graduate with a magnificent soprano voice. She is also a wonderful actress who moves the crowd with her portrayal of this young woman whe died before her time. Lisa sings duets, "A Girl in the Valley" with Archie, "There's a Girl Whom No One Sees" with Albert and the electrifying, "Come To My Garden" with Colin. She plays a ghost who wanders in and out of the scenes bringing life to the dreary and mysterious house.

The comic relief in this Gothic Dickensonian tale are the characters of Martha and Dickon. Kelli Maguire is excellent as the sassy but not well educated 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 Martha has given her and "Hold On" where she tries to inspire Mary to keep on helping Colin to recover by staying in the house. (Kelli also does a fantastic job in the cabaret where she sings "Garbage", a comic number about being treated and dumped by her boyfriend.) Daniel Frank Kelley is a breath of fresh air as Dickon who wins Mary over by charming her with his magical abilities of being able to talk to nature. His powerful tenor voice sells "Winter's on the Wing" and his duet with Mary called "Wick" where you have to find how to make things grow. Ben, played by Gordon Gray, is the faithful gardener whom Lily hired and he tends all the gardens except the secret one. He plays this kindly old man who eventually helps bring the secret garden back to life. Gordon uses his powerful baritone voice in "It's A Maze". The two villains of this piece are Dr. Neville Craven and Mrs. Medlock played by David Elledge and Mary-Ann Trippet. David plays this bitter man who feels trapped inside a house that he feels should rightfully be his as well as having to care for a boy no one wants. His songs include "Lily's Eyes" with Archie, "Quartet" with Archie, Lily and Rose and "Disappear" where he wants to be rid of Mary to have the house return to its dismal state. Mary-Ann is absolutely scary as this Dickens type of monstorous housekeeper. She is clad in black and is dour and as miserable as can be. (She redeems herself in the cabaret by wearing a colored outfit while singing "In My Own Space" showing off a lovely soprano voice.)

Mary's parents, Albert and Rose Lennox are played by Stephen Mitchell Brown and Bianca Carragher. He is the more caring parent while she is only interested in parties. Both of them have excellent voices and do a wonderful job as the ghosts who wander around the mansion helping Mary with her transition to a new home. Stephen who is only 24 years old also sings a song in the cabaret called, "Grateful". The people Mary learned her spells and mysticism from in India are Ayah and the Fakir played by Joanne Javien and Fausto Pineda. Their ghostly prescence also helps Mary cope with unpleasant obstacles thrown in her way. The other talented cast members include Leo Ash Evens, (who sings "It Was Only a Dream" in the cabaret and at 23 will be heading to florida for a pre-Broadway tour of an original musical called "Harmony") Neil Santoro, Shawn Cox, (who sings "Since I Fell for You", a 50's rock number in cabaret) Lindsay Packard, Laurena Barros, Reed Davis, (who sings "I Love You Elizabeth Taylor" in cabaret, is originally from Cool, CA and this season at TBTS played the lead in "I Love You..." for a few performances and also filled in as Billy Flynn in "Chicago" for some shows, too) Kevin Dunnigan, Katalin Wargo and Christopher Monteith. Frank O'Donnell, the host of the cabaret keeps the crowd entertained with his rapport and constant wisecracks. The cabaret music director Natasha Ullman who is a very talented pianist, is one of Karl's students at U of Michigan. Other cabaret performers include Jenna of merchandizing who sings, "Unforgetable", Emily of housing services, who sings "Waiting for Life to Begin", David the bartender who sings and plays guitar, Casey's older brother Andrew McIntyre who sings. It's Not Where You Start" from "Seesaw" and Ryan and Kendall, the parking attendants who are only in high school, singing and belting out an excellent rendition of "Suddenly Seymour" from "Little Shop of Horrors".

Press night isn't complete without the wonderful and delicious buffet cooked to perfection by Dwayne Crowe, served by his lovely wife Carleen, their topnotch wait staff lead by their son, Adam who is also an excellent performer, too. This time the treats were pasta with scallops and shrimp, chicken baked with cheese and onions, red bliss potatoes, carrots, salad, rolls, chocolate chip cookies and a chocolate cake with white frosting and chocolate chips inside it. (It was so scrumptious it disappeared very quickly.) So for one of the best shows of the summer, be sure to catch, "The Secret Garden" before all the tickets are gone.

"The Secret Garden" (25 July - 16 August)
364 Card's Pond Road MATUNUK, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401) 782-8587

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide