The Secret Garden at Court Theatre

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The Secret Garden at Court Theatre

Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman

Music by Lucy Simon

Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Directed by Charles Newell

Music Director Doug Peck

Choreographer Katie Spelman

At Court Theatre, Chicago

Stunningly staged and sung, Newell and Peck’s production of The Secret Garden a major triumph!

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When director Charles Newell and music director Doug Peck collaborate, magic happens! With impeccable casting and fine staging, together with brilliant orchestrations, these skilled artists create fabulous musicals which move the genre into artful storytelling. The Secret Garden is a seldom produced gem that is tough to cast and a challenge to stage, but Newell and Peck were sure up to that task as they deliver a truthful, emotionally deep experience from the British Edwardian source material. Court Theatre’s The Secret Garden is one of 2015’s best productions! A lush score filled with haunting operetta style ballads and English folk melodies,  The Secret Garden is a beautiful heart-warming musical filled with charm and wholesomeness.

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Based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden tells the story of Mary Lennox (Tori Whaples), a lonely little girl who is sent to live with her uncle Archibald (Rob Lindley) in Yorkshire after being orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India in 1906. Still grieving over the loss of his beloved wife Lily who died ten years earlier during childbirth and distraught over the condition of his bedridden son, Archibald casts a dark shadow over the manor until Mary discovers a secret garden that had once belonged to Lily(Jennie Sophia). By nursing this garden back to life, Mary somehow restores life to her grieving uncle and his sick son. The mysterious secret in the garden unfolds as the door to happiness opens for Mary, Colin (Trent Noor) and Archibald.

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The eerie tone of this show is set by the haunting “I Heard Someone Crying” and “Come to My Garden.” Director Charles Newell has marvelously staged this show within the intimacy of Court Theatre’s modestly sized stage. Fueled by a terrific singing ensemble is the hauntingly wonderful  Jennie Sophia as Lily leading young Mary to discover and nurture the garden. Director Charles Newell effective unites Mary’s India experience by having her  mirrored by the ghost of her native Indian governess Ayah (Aika Nayyar). Music Director Doug Peck utilizes a sitar and an oud to add an authentic Indian music flavor to to Lucy Simon’s score. Young Tori Whaples, as Mary Lennox,  gives an effective down to earth performance of the unique child, Mary. She is authentic with her feisty manner and her fine singing voice. With the fabulous Elizabeth Ledo as Marta the maid and her gardener brother  Dickon (the charming Aubrey McGrath), Tori Whaples easily wins out hearts as she brings the mysterious garden to life. The enchanting “Wick” song is a duet where Mary and Dickon agree to bring out the potential and special qualities of Lily’s garden. 
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The entire story climaxes in the nicely staged “Come Spirit, Come Charm” that finds Mary and Dickon (with help from the spirits from India and the entire ensemble) as they ‘cure’ Colin from his bedridden condition. Director Newell’s staging of this ‘cure’ was breathtakingly beautifully staged – the best I’ve seen in any production of The Secret Garden! We sympathize with Archie’s torment as he sees his departed wife Lily in Mary. Rob Lindley’s Archie and  Jeff Parker’s Dr. Neville sing the powerful duet “Lily’s Eyes” nicely. Parker demonstrates his fine voice with “Disappear.” Rob Lindley lands the wonderful “Where in the World” and the lovely love song duet with Sophia’s Lily “How Could I Ever Know.” His “A Bit of Earth”  establishes Lindley as a wonderful Archibald. I have never heard Rob Lindley sing better- he was fabulous here! We see that Archie loves Colin as he sings his bedtime story with “Race You to the Top of the Morning.”court theatre We care for Mary and Colin and we feel Archie’s pain. The powerful vocal production, together with expert performances, catapult this home from a place of gloom to one of hope and renewal as Mary and her garden unlock the wholesomeness of family life. This exquisitely beautiful musical wins our hearts as it renews our human spirit. This is a fine family-friendly production. 

Highly Recommended
Tom Williams
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 30, 2015
At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, Il, call 773-753-4472, www.courttheatre.org, tickets $25 for children 4-15, $45 – $65 for adults, Wed. & Thurs at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through June 21, 2015 

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