Music by Lucy Simon
Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Directed & Choreographed by Stacey Flaster
Music Director Roger L. Bingaman
Produced by Light Opera Works
At Cahn Auditorium, Evanston
Beautiful singing of a melodic Lucy Simon score propels The Secret Garden.
It is wonderful that the management at Light Opera Works keeps producing authentic productions of classic operettas and Broadway musicals using the full orchestrations from the originals with a full 28 piece orchestra. The 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.
Based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden tells the story of Mary Lennox (Sophie Thatcher), a lonely little girl who is sent to live with her uncle Archibald (Nick Foster) in Yorkshire after being orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India. 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(Brianna Borger). 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 for Mary, Colin (Matthew Schroeder) and Archibald.
The eerie tone of this show is set by the haunting “I Heard Someone Crying” and “Come to My Garden.” Director Stacey Flaster has marvelously staged this show with effective use of her powerful singing ensemble and the glowing Brianna Borger’s Lily leading young Mary to discover and nurture the garden. Flaster gives the show a rich texture with the movement of the ensemble as they add a ghost-like feel to the tale.
Fifth Grader Sophie Thatcher, as Mary Lennox, is a actor/sing mature beyond her age. She commands the stage with her feisty manner and her terrific voice. With help from Maggie Portman, as Marta the maid and Steve Peebles’ Dickon, young Sophie Thatcher charms us as she solves the gardens mysteries. The enchanting “Wick” song is a duet where Mary and Dickon.
The entire story climaxes in the nicely staged “Come Spirit, Come Charm” that finds Mary, Dickon (with help from the spirits from India and the entire ensemble) as they ‘cure’ Colin from his bedridden condition.
We commiserate with Archie’s torment as he sees his departed wife Lily in Mary. Nick Foster’s Archie and William Travis Taylor’s Dr. Neville sing the powerful duet “Lily’s Eyes.” Taylor demonstrates his singing prowess with “Disappear.” Nick Foster lands the wonderful “Where in the World” and the lovely love song duet with Lily “How Could I Ever Know.” His “A Bit of Earth” is an emotional gem. We see that Archie loves Colin as he sings his bedtime story with “Race You to the Top of the Morning” that was underscored with two cute shadow puppets.
This lovely musical is a compelling and wrenching work that comes alive with Roger L. Bingaman strong orchestra. Powerful singing by Nick Foster, William Travis Taylor, Sophie Thatcher and Brianna Borger make The Secret Garden soar into our hearts. The expert staging by Stacey Flaster works to create just the right tone and atmosphere to create a ghost story. We care for Mary and Colin and we feel Archie’s pain. The lofty operatic feel of Flaster’s production together with the outstanding vocals make Light Opera Work’s The Secret Garden is late Christmas present. Kids eight and up will enjoy this adult friendly sophisticated production. Stacey Flaster once again proves she is a director of note. I hope to see her directing at Drury Lane Oakbrook and Marriott Theatre in the near future.
At Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston, call 874-920-5360, www.musictheaterworks.com, tickets $32 – $94 (half price tickets on Family days), Family matinee, Tuesday, Dec 27 at 2 pm; Family matinee, Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 2 pm; Thursday, Dec. 29 at 8 pm; Friday, Dec. 30 at 8 pm; Family matinee, Saturday, Dec. 31 at 2 pm, and Saturday, Dec. 31 at 8 pm; Sunday, Jan. 1 at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission.