A sophisticated children’s story

  • Mike Murray<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 10:06am

Surprises are in store when you unlatch the gate to “The Secret Garden,” the musical stage adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel that opened Jan. 7 in Everett.

“The Secret Garden” is about a lonely girl who brings a desolate garden (and her family) back to life with the power of hope and love, and there are summer roses to be sure in this Village Theatre production.

But there are dead people, too, and their ghosts haunt this dark story of death and grief that comes into the light only at the end.

The eclectic score draws on a variety of musical influences, from Broadway show tunes and lush ballads to Celtic songs. This is music that goes beyond the usual Broadway fare.

“The Secret Garden” is a children’s classic, but the musical wears an air of sophisticated understatement, with stylistic elements of staging and design structured like chamber music.

“It’s an interesting departure for us,” said Steve Tomkins, Village Theatre’s artistic director, who talked about the production in a pre-season interview last fall.

The music, he said, “is phenomenal, so unlike anything that was written on Broadway when it came out. It’s very much a chamber piece … and a singer’s show.”

“The Secret Garden” won several Tony Awards after it opened on Broadway in 1991. The music is by Lucy Simon (Carly’s sister) with lyrics and book by Marsha Norman.

Brian Yorkey directs the Village Theatre production, which includes a cast of 19 Village Theatre regulars and many new faces.

Stanwood’s Caitlin Kinnunen, who starred in Village Theatre’s production of “Annie,” alternates in the role of Mary Lennox, the young girl sent to live with her uncle in an English manor house after both of her parents die in a cholera epidemic in India.

Her uncle Archibald Craven, who still mourns the death of his wife, is so grief-stricken that he walls up her beloved garden and joins the walking dead that inhabit this story as surely as the living.

He’s walled inside the gloomy Victorian manor with a scheming brother and a son, Colin, who also is hidden away. Colin is sick and will die, or so he’s told, until Mary finds him and convinces him otherwise.

Mary’s biggest discovery is a secret gate that leads to an abandoned garden. This garden, like the lives around it, has been left unattended to die, but Mary finds a way to make the flowers bloom again and give her family new life.

“It’s the biggest show I’ve ever done,” said Brian Yorkey, whose challenge was to move many characters through multiple scene changes in a way that gives the story meaning and incorporates the nearly 30 musical scenes.

You could do a lot of shows on a bare stage, and you would still get the story, he said, but “The Secret Garden” is too complex, so the audience needs the visual help to understand the story.

“Design is key to making the story clear,” he said.

Mike Murray is a writer for The Herald newspaper in Everett.

Talk to us

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.