April 30--CenterPoint Legacy Theatre's production of the "The Secret Garden" hits pay dirt with a rich, heart-wrenching, spirited and tender piece guaranteed to move audiences.
Based on the beloved children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the musical offers a lush, gorgeous score and an engaging story.
This is a story of longing and loneliness. This is a story of regret, heartache and mourning. This is a story of lost dreams. But this is also a story of rebirth, hope and the promise of new dreams.
This is also one of director Jim Christian's favorites, and it's not difficult to understand why. The textured story has some delightfully funny moments, but then on a dime takes soul-wrenching turns. Without relying on a lot of spectacle or stage trickery, Christian and his creative team capture the haunted, dark house on the mist-covered highlands of Yorkshire, England, as well as the warmth of India where the Victorian-era tale unfolds.
Christian -- who heads the musical theater program at Weber State University -- wisely lets the music be the star of this production. In the hands of the talented cast, the result is a riveting, powerful and beautiful production that will give your tear ducts a workout. The show is double-cast, and the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast did a wonderful job in their opening show last Tuesday on the Centerville theater's main stage.
I particularly enjoyed the musical sequence that comes toward the end of the first act, as the widowed Archibald Craven reacts to orphaned niece Mary Lennox's request for a place to grow a garden. It begins as Danny Inkley -- who plays the role of the brooding, reclusive and grieving hunchback -- sings in his clear, balladeer voice "A Bit of Earth."
Inkley soars in a song that magnificently captures within its verses hope and promise and then devastation, grief and despair. I wanted to applaud when Inkley was finished, but the score is so expertly crafted that it immediately moves into the ensemble number "Storm 1" and then transitions again into the masterful duet "Lily's Eyes" between Archibald and his embittered brother, Dr. Neville Craven, played by Dann Howard.
The sequence builds to one of the most dramatic moments in the story, as Mary finally discovers the existence of her cousin Colin Craven, a sickly boy hidden away and confined to his bed in the spooky manor. The interplay between the two children in that scene -- as well as scenes that follow -- provide some of the funnier moments, particularly when there are tantrums involved.
Mary, played on Tuesday by youthful WSU junior Katie Jones, is deliciously sullen and bratty when she needs to be; and Colin, played by Walter Inkley, proves himself a gifted actor and singer, and too darn cute. You can't help but root for him, even when he is being a bit of a hypochondriac and lording it -- so to speak -- over the manor.
Part of the plot revolves around Archibald's and Colin's tenuous father/son relationship. The two Inkleys are father and son in real life, which gives scenes between them an added layer of significance.
I was also impressed by Cameron Garner as the impish and mystical Dickon, who plays a role in leading Mary and the others into the secrets of the garden. Dickon's songs -- including "Winter's on the Wing" and "Wick," which he sings with Mary -- get to the heart and magic of this musical. Garner's voice is clear and strong, and his performance is charming.
Many of the characters onstage are ghosts -- or dreamers, as they are referred to in the libretto. As I watched the staging, I was reminded in some ways of the play "Our Town" when the ghosts stare straight ahead as they speak their lines from the cemetery. It is eerie, but extremely effective staging.
April Hales as good-natured chambermaid Martha also delivers the rousing "Hold On" anthem to the disheartened Mary near the story's conclusion. For those not familiar with the score, "Hold On" is the equivalent of Mother Abbess singing "Climb Every Mountain" to Maria in "The Sound of Music" -- and "Hold On" is just as stirring and inspiring.
The story is wrapped up with a rather pretty bow that on one level seems a little bit too simplistic. Neville, who is the main adversary in the piece and a character I suspect of some rather nasty deeds, really doesn't get the comeuppance he deserves.
I'm not asking for a "Les Miz" Javert-jumping-off-the bridge-type moment, but the ending would have been stronger had he just gone away. Instead, he lingers a bit in the garden as the show reaches its end. But perhaps I'm missing the point of "The Secret Garden," which ultimately is a story about forgiveness, letting go of old wounds and moving on.
If you are looking for a show to shake off the shackles of winter, "The Secret Garden" is your ticket. It will leave you marveling at the wonders of the human spirit in the face of adversity, and may even get you digging in your own garden to get things growing.
(c)2013 the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah)
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