The Caldwell Theatre recently presented a concert version of the musical The Secret Garden. The musical, featuring book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, and music by Lucy Simon, opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on April 25, 1991, and closed on January 3, 1993 after 709 performances. It received three Drama Desk Awards, and three 1991 Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Daisy Eagan), and Best Scenic Design (Heidi Landesman). The story is based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The story is set in 1906, where Mary Lennox, an eleven-year-old English girl born and raised in the British Raj, is orphaned by a cholera outbreak. She is sent from Colonial India to Yorkshire, England, to live with her Uncle Archibald Craven at the Misselthwaite Manor. The imposing manor is filled with dark secrets of the past, and inhabited by the resilient spirit of her late Aunt Lily. A secret garden at Misselthwaite Manor is a place that is tied to both death and regeneration within the family. The garden represents the healing power inherent in living thingsboth in nature and in man.
Projection backgrounds supplied the scenic design for this production nicely, and a backlit scrim framed images of the ghost of Lily. What staging was present worked well to highlight scene changes and acting beats. Accompaniment by keyboard and some percussion actually filled in the sound of the score well enough that one might forget that a real orchestra was not present; and the ensemble singing was strong throughout the show.
Despite the occasional loutish outburst of her character, Catherine Minyard was sweet as Mary Lennox. She did an admirable job with the size of the role despite scattered moments of seeming to lose her place for a just a second. She worked well off of Dakota Ruiz as Colin. He really needed little reference to his script to stay on task, and had a great feel for his character.
Melissa Minyard embodied Lily with dignified carriage and an ethereal voice. Her sound was especially lovely in "Come To My Garden" and "How Could I Ever Know." One might wish that her singing voice were just a bit more lyric however so that the highest notes were as effortlessly angelic as the rest of her notes. Wayne LeGette (Archibald Craven) spent too much time and energy copying Mandy Patinkin who originated the role. His singing voice naturally has some similarities, but even his inflections, phrasing, and forward placement driven through the nose on high notes were identical. Unlike Yul Brynner in The King and I, however, Patinkin did not define the role of Archibald. LeGette is too accomplished an actor to need to copy anyone. It felt like watching an imitation rather than genuinely motivated acting choices.
John Debkowski was charming as Dickon, and did a wonderful job singing "Winter's on the Wing" and "Wick." Amy Miller Brennan as Martha gave the stand out performance of the evening. Her accent work was the most consistent, her character commitment was huge, and her attention to little moments was keen. One could forget this production was a concert version when she was performing. Her rendition of "Hold On" was the best moment of the show.
The Caldwell Theatre provided a lovely concert version of The Secret Garden in this fourth installment of their concert series. I can't help but notice, however, that all four have featured the same two lead actors playing opposite each other. As talented and professional as they may be, diversity in casting is as essential as diversity in programming to keep a theatre fresh and its audiences happy. In the words of Stephen Sondheim, "Give us more to see."
The Secret Garden appeared in concert May 20 - 22, 2011, at the Caldwell Theatre. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. The Caldwell Theatre Company is located in the Count De Hoernle Theatre at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida. For information you may contact them by phone at 561-241-7432 or online at www.caldwelltheatre.com.
*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.