Review #2: ‘The Secret Garden’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company by PJ McMahon

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a story that has fascinated and moved people for the last hundred years, from the original novel, to the various film adaptations, and a Broadway musical. With music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, a new production of The Secret Garden opened last night at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Josh Young (Neville Craven) and Michael Xavier (Archibald Craven). Photo by Scott Suchman.
Josh Young (Neville Craven) and Michael Xavier (Archibald Craven). Photo by Scott Suchman.

This was a moving and beautiful production that I’m getting emotional thinking about. From the gorgeous production designs to the immensely talented cast, this production was everything I could have ever wanted for this beautiful work.

The story itself is one that I connect to emotionally. The themes of loneliness and grief that control most of the story, to the end that shows hope, family, and the feeling of home, have always moved me. It also helps that Simon and Norman are gifted writers. Simon’s score is one of the finest ever written for musical theatre and Norman’s book and lyrics perfectly capture the tone of Burnett’s story. The production was directed and choreographed by David Armstrong, whose brilliant staging and character work is mostly to thank for this show’s success.

Henry Baratz (Colin Craven) and Anya Rothman (Mary Lennox ). Photo by Scott Suchman.
Henry Baratz (Colin Craven) and Anya Rothman (Mary Lennox ). Photo by Scott Suchman.

Young Mary Lennox (played by Anya Rothman) wakes up in her bed at her home in India to find that her parents have died of cholera. She is sent to live with her reclusive, crippled, and tortured uncle Archibald Craven (Michael Xavier) at his home called Misselthwaite Manor. The house is haunted by ghosts of the past, including Craven’s wife Lily (Lizzie Klemperar). Mary makes friends with her maid Martha (Daisy Eagan), her brother Dickon (Charlie Franklin), and meets her sickly cousin Colin (Henry Baratz), as they discover Lily’s long forgotten garden. Together, they learn the meaning of hope and family.

Rothman carries the show, which is a heavy task for a child actor. But she absolutely nails it. It’s easy to make Mary into a spoiled, annoying brat, but Rothman makes her into what she truly is: human. It’s a star-making performance. As Archibald, Xavier perfectly captures his tortured and romantic soul. A scene towards the end captures just that. He sings about being haunted by Lily’s spirit and is unable to escape her memory, when she appears and the characters sing a beautiful duet of forgiveness and letting go (“How Could I Ever Know”). As Lily, Klemperar is warm and beautiful with killer pipes to boot.

Daisy Eagan (Martha) and Anya Rothman (Mary Lennox). Photo by Scott Suchman.
Daisy Eagan (Martha) and Anya Rothman (Mary Lennox). Photo by Scott Suchman.

In 1991, Daisy Eagan became the youngest female to ever win a Tony Award when she played Mary Lennox in the original Broadway production of The Secret Garden. Now, 25 years later, she returns to the piece but in a different role, as Mary’s maid Martha. She had a wonderful connection with Rothman. Unfortunately, at the performance I saw, she had some microphone issues in the first Act, which made it hard to hear her. By the second act, all was fixed and she gave a beautiful performance of the ballad “Hold On.”

Tony nominee Josh Young plays Dr. Neville Craven, Archibald’s brother and Colin’s caretaker. The song “Lily’s Eyes” is a soaring duet between Archibald and Neville and was one of the many standout moments in the show. I was also quite charmed by Franklin’s portrayal of Dickon. The ensemble is one of best I’ve ever heard from a musical. Wonderfully sounded. Music Director Rick Fox is to thank for this ensemble’s incredible performance.

But enough about the cast, let’s talk about the gorgeous design elements. Immediately when I walked in and got to immediately see the beautiful garden set by Anna Louizos and blue lighting by Mike Baldassari, I had to take a minute because I was overwhelmed by its look.

Lizzie Klemperer (Lily). Phot oby Teresa Wood.
Lizzie Klemperer (Lily). Photo by Teresa Wood.

When in the garden, the set is encroached with vines, while the manor’s look is very gothic and mysterious. The set is supported by Baldassari’s lighting, with its lighter colors for the garden, and dark grey for the manor. Another feature of the lighting I appreciated was the blue filters used for the ghosts. Ann Hould-Ward’s Victorian-era costumes are the cherry on top of the perfect design Sundae.

If you’re looking for a show to bring the whole family for the holiday season, look no further than The Secret Garden at Shakespeare Theatre Company. The show’s themes of life and family will make even the biggest curmudgeon feel warm. You must come and visit this gorgeous garden.

Running Time: Two hours and 15-minutes, with one intermission.

The Secret Garden plays through January 8 2017, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall – 610 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.

Daisy Eagan: From Her Tony Award-winning Mary Lennox to Playing Martha in ‘The Secret Garden’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company by Joel Markowitz.

Henry Baratz on Playing Colin Craven in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘The Secret Garden’ by Joel Markowitz.

Anya Rothman on playing Mary Lennox in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘The Secret Garden’ by Joel Markowitz.

Dangereuse: “That Burnett Woman: The Magical ‘Secret Garden’ at the Shakespeare Theatre Company” by Sophia Howes.

Review #1: ‘The Secret Garden’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company by Ana Morgenstern.

‘The Secret Garden’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company by PJ McMahon.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1550.gif


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