The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman
At ACT-CT in Ridgefield
By: Karen Isaacs - May 31, 2023
I have wanted to see The Secret Garden, the musical written by Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) and Lucy Simon (music) for years. The show is rarely performed, yet it should be on stage much more often.
Thankfully, ACT-CT in Ridgefield has mounted a delightful production that runs through Sunday, June 11.
I encourage you to get tickets.
The show is based on the novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which was turned into a fine film in 1993 and a more recent film in 2020.
The young adult book, as it would now be described, was written in 1911.
It tells the story of Mary Lennox, an English girl living in India with her well-to-do parents (he’s a military officer). When a cholera epidemic hits, she is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle Archibald Craven in rural Yorkshire. She finds a dark and haunted house. Archibald is still mourning his wife, Lily, who died in childbirth with their son, Colin. Colin, Mary’s age, is considered an invalid and kept sequestered in his room by his uncle, Dr. Neville Craven.
Left to her own devices, she is befriended by a servant (Rose), Rose’s brother (Dickon) and the gardener (Ben) and discovers the garden Lily had loved. After her death, Archibald had locked it up, buried the key, and let it go to weeds.
The story of grief, friendship and the restorative effect of nature makes this a touching musical.
The score is glorious, filled with wonderful melodies. Perhaps the best known is “Lily’s Eyes” a duet with Archibald and Neville both recalling Lily and Mary’s resemblance to her. But you will enjoy “Come to My Garden,” “How Could I Ever Know,” “A Fine White Horse” and others.
Director Daniel C. Levine has assembled a fine cast. Charlotte Wing who plays Mary brings a simplicity to the role, which makes the character more touching. Mary is a quiet child, used to being alone; as we see her become more outgoing and independent, we discover her inner spirit.
Matt Faucher plays Neville Craven, and Brian Golub is Archibald. They both have fine voices and the “Lily’s Eyes” duet is in excellent hands. Each role has its built-in difficulties; Neville is both the “bad guy” and one who also loved and mourns Lily. Archibald is so withdrawn and remote that he spends his time wandering the halls or away from the house.
Lily is a prominent character in the show. She is a spectral figure that is part ghost and part memory. In some ways, she is the character that ties the show together and makes the rebirth of hope and love possible. She has two touching songs – “Come to My Garden” and “How Could I Ever Know,” the latter with Archibald. Katie Diamond’s beautiful voice adds luster to these songs.
The chorus is, after the first scene in India, also ghosts including Mary’s parents. But these are benevolent ghosts. The finale shows the ghosts leaving, one by one, indicating that Mary, Colin and Archibald have healed.
Are there flaws in this production? One would be the tendency of ACT-CT to amp up the sound. At least one audience member was holding her ears. This is a tender, lyrical score; it doesn’t need excessive volume.
The production elements of the play are fine: Scenic design by David Goldstein, costume design by Leslie Bernstein, lighting design by Charlie Morrison and video design by Camilla Tassi.
You might quibble with some of the choices the production team made, but it doesn’t detract for fine performances in a very good show.
To get tickets, visit ACTofCT.org