Monday, September 09, 2002

The Secret Garden

The Davis Musical Theatre Company has opened its 18th season with "The Secret Garden," based on the classic tale by Frances Hodgson Burnett, adapted by Marsha Norman, with music by Lucy Simon, and directed, in this production, by DMTC co-founder Steve Isaacson (who is also credited with vocal direction and light design).

"The Secret Garden" tells of Mary Lennox, orphaned in India, where her parents and everyone she knew died in a cholera epidemic. She is taken back to England to live with her only remaining relative, her uncle Archibald Craven, who lives in a lonely mansion on the Yorkshire Moors.

Archibald has been wallowing in deep grief over the loss of his wife (who died during childbirth), and has isolated himself from the world, and especially from his sickly son, Colin, who is bedridden and kept hidden in his room by his physician, Archibald's brother Neville.

The arrival of Mary, initially a spoiled, self-centered child who has been waited on all her life, causes disruption in the carefully ordered life that Archibald has built for himself.

In her loneliness, Mary begins to explore the grounds and finds secret garden, planted by Archibald's wife, Lily, and locked ever since her death. With the help of the gardner, Dickon (brother of the chambermaid, Martha), Mary works to revive the garden, and in so doing she is herself changed into a caring child who ultimately brings life back to the house, to Archibald and to Colin.

This is big show and a difficult show to do well. Within its limited resources, DMTC has done a credible job. There are very strong points in this production.

Heading these is Rodger McDonald, a very strong Archibald. McDonald allows the audience to feel the pain of his grief and his struggle with his feelings for his son. His duet ("Lily's Eyes") with his brother Neville (Jason Stevens) is one of the shows strongest moments.

13 year old Erin Carpenter, in her first DMTC adult show, is a better actress than singer, but her acting is so strong and she brings such earnestness to the role of Mary that one can overlook her vocal inconsistencies.

Pheonix Vaughn is a lovely Lily, whose spirit watches over the house and whose love for Archibald persists despite the separation that death has caused. Their duet, "How Could I Ever Know" was lovely.

A particularly strong performance is turned in by Megan O'Laughlin in the small role of the chambermaid, Martha.

Jeremiah Lowder, as Dickon is likewise a strong characterization, though his "Yorkshire" accent had more of a Dublin sound than Yorkshire (several characters seemed to have similar accent problems).

Kyle Cherry does well in the small role of Colin.

There are 18 different scenes in this show, each of which takes place in a different location--a sitting room, a ballroom, Archibald's library, Colin's room, a room in Paris, etc., and little was done to differentiate among the various scenes, except a piece of furniture here and there on an otherwise bare stage. The lack of funding to provide a more elaborate set could have been handled with a bit more imaginative lighting design. The transformation of the garden from an unkempt, neglected place to a beautiful garden with flowers everywhere was one that had to be imagined, as there was little to no change in the scenery itself.

However, where the scenery is lacking, there is no such lack in the costumes. Jean Henderson has designed some lovely costumes which appropriately convey the feeling of turn of the 20th century English aristocracy.

Likewise, the caliber of singing is, for the most part, quite good. This is a difficult show musically, with few "hum-able tunes," and most of the cast is equal to the task. Isaacson has chosen well for his "Greek chorus" of spirits from the past who keep the narration of the story moving.

While not exactly a "children's show," more mature children should enjoy the story. The production should also develop a bit more spark as the actors settle into the run.

This will be DMTC's last season at the Varsity Theatre, as the company is in the throes of building a new theatre in East Davis. There will be ample opportunity during the coming season for fans of DMTC to show their support and perhaps purchase a memorial to become a permanent part of the company's new home.

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