W. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s tale The Secret Garden has delighted readers and audiences for over a century. Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s 1991 musical adaptation transforms it into a visceral experience that 2nd Star Productions delivers in a heady spray of song and drama. This musical drips with lush, hummable melodies whose subtle dissonances save it from predictable sweetness.
In this G-rated ghost story, an orphan’s benign ancestral spirits guide her to a healing garden that restores her broken family, physically and mentally. It’s Disneyesque but sophisticated enough for mature audiences, so it is fitting that the youth in this production shine as brightly as the adults.
Chief among them are rising stars Vivian Wingard as the orphan Mary Lennox and Zachary Fadler as her friend Dickon. Wingard is a rosebud waiting to bloom: a charming actress, graceful dancer and accomplished singer with a pure, unspoiled sound. She is refreshingly innocent yet capable of holding her own against a cast of old pros. It is Fadler, however, who steals the show as Dickon, Mary’s best friend. When he enters in “Winter’s on the Wing,” all else disappears under the spell of his exuberance and vocal edge. Warmth is palpable when he sings it in in “Wick.”
Equally compelling is Mary Dickson, who plays Dickon’s sister Martha, the maid. Her effortless mezzo is as inspirational and grounded as a mother’s embrace, notably in Act One’s “A Fine White Horse” and her blockbuster finale “Hold On.”
Working folk aside, Mary feels unloved and alone. Her cold Uncle Archibald Craven (Eddie Chell) is haunted by Mary’s resemblance to his deceased Lily, the wife his brother Neville (John Dickson) also loved from afar. These two fine actors and singers set a solemn tone for the show’s most memorable music: “A Bit of Earth,” “Lily’s Eyes,” “Quartet” and “Where in the World.” Dickson’s voice is resonant and authoritative in both speech and song, but most compelling in the lilting Irish tenor melody, “Disappear.”
The situation is complicated by the congenital illness of Archibald’s only child, who barely knows his father thanks to Dr. Neville’s overprotective care. Austin McKinnis’ hypochondriacal Colin (double cast with Gabe Needle) is perfectly obnoxious, hardy of spirit but otherwise frail.
An excellent Greek chorus of omniscient ghosts is omnipresent and too numerous to mention by name, but Kevin Cleaver as Captain Lennox has the most haunting voice and bearing. Samantha Feikema as Lily Craven has the most daunting role and operatic style, with a piercing coloratura reminiscent of Sarah Brightman. But lovely as is her solo “Come to My Garden,” her voice does not blend in chorus. Malarie Novotny as Mrs. Medlock is another highlight of an already bright ensemble. Opening night also featured a fine surprise performance by co-director Brian Douglas as Major Holmes. Cheramie Jackson is a loveable and realistic Mrs. Medlock.
This show is a late bloomer, poorly set by the overture and a rocky opening number. Past its initial awkwardness, it captivates. A piccolo’s birdsong brings the outdoors inside, and a magical sense of time and place is achieved with exquisite costumes, décor and choreography. The English furnishings and tapestry look like they belong at Sotheby’s. The Indian Shiva dance in “Come Spirit Come Charm” with Ayah (Ruta Kidolis) and Fakir (Michael Mathes) is as exotic as incense. “Come to My Garden,” Lily beckons with good reason. It’s a beautiful place.
Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde. Costumes: Linda Swan.