Apparently part of the theme for this week is adaptations of things that I loved as a child. And today we’re going to talk about the musical version of The Secret Garden that is currently playing at the Shakespeare Theater. I didn’t know that there was a musical version, but it turns out that it was originally appeared on Broadway in 1991. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to theater at that point (beyond the cast recordings my mom had – Cats and Phantom of the Opera), so no wonder. And I didn’t even really know much about the story until two years after that when the movie version came out, and that I did love (eventually, after being forced to watch it by my mother).
But our season tickets to the Shakespeare Theatre mean that we see everything – good, bad, weird, boring, familiar and strange. It’s a good way to be exposed to different plays that I haven’t heard of before, along with the familiar works of Shakespeare. My mom also has tickets, and usually goes the night before we do. She had also agreed to babysit for the girls while we were at the show, so we got to talk about it afterwards with her.
My main takeaway is that it was quite good. The story follows young Mary Lennox in the early 1900s, whose parents die in an outbreak in India. She is sent to live with her only relative – an uncle by marriage in an old stately home in Yorkshire. She’s pretty much left to her own devices, and eventually discovers the world of the gardens surrounding the home. One of these is the “secret garden” which her aunt – her mother’s sister – loved best of all, and was part of the reason for her death. Mary also eventually discovers her cousin who is similar in age, but who has been treated like a cripple by his father and doctor because he was born early due to his mother’s accident. So based on this description, there’s going to be a couple of very young actors, the challenges of the Yorkshire accent for the working class people in the home, settings which will have to go from dreary abandoned gardens to those fully in bloom, and trying to convey the senses of loss, loneliness, and not quite knowing what want in life.
All of these challenges are tackled head on. The young actress playing Mary is Anya Rothman, and she is so cute it hurts. She’s not perfectly perfect, but she’s very natural in the role, and has a lovely singing voice. Her accent may be off and on (though better than the other little boy’s in the production), but accents are difficult, and it’s easy enough to overlook. The actors who impressed me most were those who play her maid Martha, and Martha’s brother Dickon.
The actress playing Martha is Daisy Eagan, who is best known for originating the role of Mary Lennox back in 1991, and winning a Tony award for her performance as a young girl. AMAZING. And she’s so sweet and loving with Mary as Martha. It’s just a treat to have her as part of the company. As good as Daisy is, Charlie Franklin who plays Dickon is even better. Dickon is the charismatic young man who first brings Mary out of her shell, and Charlie does the best job with this. From the first time he steps onstage and begins singing, you can’t help but focus all your attention on him.
The rest of the cast is quite good as well. I was not a huge fan of the way that the original book story had been altered regarding the Doctor/brother. I didn’t remember that storyline at all (perhaps because I never actually read the original book?) but in the play, the brother of Mary’s uncle is next in line for inheritance, and is also acting as doctor to the son. This conflict of interest, along with a secret love for the deceased aunt just seems like completely unnecessary tension, when there’s already so much emotional drama going on. Perhaps the original creators of the show felt that there needed to be a proper villain somewhere – and this was the closest they could get?
In any case – the whole show is terrific. The set is used well, and the gardens that “bloom” are lovely to behold. Perhaps a little sparse, but it’s difficult to bring in as many fake flowers to dress the set as I would imagine there being in that garden. In discussing the show with my mother, we decided that it would be a terrific show for kids. Having a child main character is always easier to empathize with if you are small. And it’s not too scary, and it has some good messages. It’s also not overly long (2 hours, 15 minutes), which can be a problem if you’ve got antsy children. Anyways – highly recommended, and a good outing for the holidays.