Nov. 07--A familiar face is helping bring a familiar story to the Paramount Theatre stage this weekend.
Retired Riverland Community College theater director Jerry Girton is directing "The Secret Garden" to kickoff the 39th season of the Matchbox Children's Theatre with a 7 p.m. show Friday and 2 p.m. shows Saturday and Sunday at the Paramount, 125 4th Ave NE.
Girton said he's excited to help bring a play many children already know and love to Austin, while also intro ducting it to those who aren't familiar with the story.
"I think the most exciting part of the secret garden is the story itself," Girton said.
Admit oneGirton is no stranger to the story, as he directed a musical version of the play while at Riverland. MTC's performance, however, will be a non-musical version, as most MCT performances last about an hour. Girton said this means the story and character development is very quick.
"It all happens very quickly," he said.
"The Secret Garden" is about Mary Lennox, an orphan Girton said starts off snooty and bratty. She is sent to live with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in England, a gloomy, lonely fortress where her uncle is rarely home. The story and Mary develop when she finds out about her cousin Colin, who is in a wheelchair, and learns the story of a mysterious locked garden from Dickon, the friendly gardener's apprentice who can talk with birds and animals.
Though the play is being produced for children, Girton said the message is one everyone can appreciate.
"It may be a kids' story, but the themes are very universal," Girton said.
In a time when bullying is widely discussed, Girton said the story has many themes about friendship and how to treat people.
"It's pretty moving," he said.
While the show features performers ranging from age 8 to older then 60, Girton was most excited to talk about the young performers early in their acting careers. MCT's performances this year feature child actors in leading roles. In "The Secret Garden," Lydia Wik, a 10-year-old Southland student, plays Mary Lennox. Girton said Lydia embraced the role and has exuded a positive confidence.
"These kids are so talented at such a young age to take on the roles that they take on," Girton said.
Girton described MCT as an important vehicle for helping young people interested in theater develop their skills, noting many of his former students at Riverland got their start in MCT.
"Matchbox has been a really important part of the Austin art scene for years," he said.
MCT's season continues in February with "There's An Alligator Under My Bed, A Nightmare in My Closet and Something in My Attic," an adaptation of three stories by beloved children's author Mercer Mayer. In April, MCT will perform the adventure story "After the Rain King."
Girton will keep busy after "The Secret Garden." He'll next direct "Guys On Ice," a musical about ice fishing, at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center in Albert Lea in February.
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