Mary Lennox finds the key to “The Secret Garden” at DCPA

Artwork by Kyle Malone

Incredible Music And Sets Highlight The Enchanting Tale.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 18, 2017

The ultimate joy of overcoming adversity rules the stage in the enchanting “Secret Garden.” Finding redemption is given enormous help with incredible music and amazing sets. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book, written in 1911, has become a popular standard for young women worldwide. The story of loss of loved ones, at any age, has resonated over the years. The heartwarming tale includes the delight of a little robin helping a girl discover the door to a decaying garden, the excitement of teaching a bed-ridden young boy to walk, and the thrill of bringing a decaying garden back to life.

Emily Walton, Liam Forde, Sean Reda, Zoe Manarel. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

The musical version of the story opened on Broadway in 1971 and ran for more than 700 performances. When seeing the original show with friends while in previews, I was knocked out by the wonderful music, but had a reality check when a friend noted, “That show isn’t going to go anywhere. It’s just too confusing.” Some of the confusion concerning who is alive and who is portrayed as ghosts remains, but is vastly overshadowed by the beauty of the story, the amazing sets, and the unforgettable music.

Zoe Manarel. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

The story revolves around a young English girl, Mary Lennox, living with her parents in India, awakening one morning to find her parents and just about everyone else she knows has died in a cholera epidemic. She is sent to the Yorkshire Moors of England to live with two uncles she has never met. The uncles have grief of their own, and are initially unhappy with the arrival of the sad girl.

Liam Forde and Zoe Manarel. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

There isn’t much for the young Mary to do in the large ancestral home, and she has difficulty coming to terms with the idea that she is no longer living a privileged life in India. Mary, as portrayed by Zoe Manarel, does have enormous spunk, and substantial help from a chambermaid Martha, and Martha’s young brother, Dickon.

Martha, excellently portrayed by Emily Walton, offers encouragement with “Hold On.” Liam Forde, playing Dickon nearly steals the show with his insightful information about “Wick” – the joy of bringing life to everything. Forde is a marvel!
Sean Palmer and Michael Halling are both very good as Mary’s Yorkshire uncles, Archibald and Neville Craven. They have problems of their own, as they were both in love with the same woman, Lily, who the young Mary greatly resembles. Among the show’s memorable moments is the heartfelt duet the brothers sing, “Lily’s Eyes.”

The entire score is among Broadway’s best. In addition to the delightful “Wick,” and the moving “Lily’s Eyes,” and “Hold On,” there are “A Bit of Earth,” “Race You to the Top of the Morning,” “Where in the World,” “How Could I Ever Know,” and the brilliant “Come to My Garden.”

Carey Rebecca Brown and Sean Palmer. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

“A Bit of Earth” is a wake-up call to the two uncles, as they don’t know what to do with Mary, only to learn that all she wants is a bit of earth to bring plants to life. Archibald’s “Race You to the Top of the Morning” is sung to his sleeping young son, fearing that he cannot provide the boy with the emotional love required. “Where in the World” and “How Could I Ever Know” come near the show’s end as Archibald and the spirit of his deceased and beloved, Lily, share their feelings for each other.

The company of The Secret Garden. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Marsha Norman wrote the book and lyrics, with Lucy Simon providing the music. The Denver production is directed by Jenn Thompson with music directed by Gregg Coffin, choreography by Patricia Wilcox, and scenic design by Wilson Chin.

The entire show looks sensational – the set, the costumes, the lighting. A word of caution – figuring out who is related to whom, who is alive and who is portrayed as ghosts can be a daunting task. Just relax and enjoy the beauty of the show, and everything will ultimately fall into place before the joyous conclusion.

“The Secret Garden”
Where: The Stage Theatre of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
When: To May 28, 2017
Information: denvercenter.org
Box Office: 303/893-4100

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