Theater: The Secret Garden

18 Aug


For the second show of its 25th anniversary season, Stages St. Louis is staging The Secret Garden, the 1991 Broadway musical based on the classic 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The play tells the story of Mary Lennox, a young British girl who is orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India. She is sent to live on the Yorkshire moors with her uncle Archibald Craven, a reclusive hunchback who is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife Lily, the sister to Mary’s dead mother Rose. Mary brings ghosts of her own from India, and the Misselthwaite manor house is soon teeming with inhabitants, both living and dead. The day-to-day operation of Misselthwaite is left to Archibald’s brother, Neville, a doctor who has given up his practice to manage his brother’s affairs, and who urges Archie to leave the house to Neville and grounds and travel the world in search of the solace that eludes him at home.

The Secret Garden original cast recording is one of my favorites, and the Stages cast does not disappoint. Peter Lockyer and Anthony Holds as Archibald and Neville Craven respectively, have marvelous voices which blend well. Lockyer looks perhaps a bit too young for the part, but his pain, both physical and emotional was always in evidence, and his youth may inform the role a bit, allowing him to resonate as a man who should have much to look forward to but who chooses, instead, to live in the past. Holds is rigid, reserved, and formal, a man burdened too much by the responsibilities, ambitions, and secrets he bears. Their duet “Lily’s Eyes” is heart-wrenching, as each professes his undying love for Archibald’s departed wife.

As Martha, a chambermaid who befriends Mary, Julie Cardia affects a near-impenetrable accent, but shines in her two songs, the comic “Fine White Horse” and the inspirational “Hold On”. As Dickon, Martha’s nature-communing brother, Joseph Medeiros sports a fine, clear voice and lithe, fluid movements, despite his right arm being in a cast.

The two standouts in the cast, however, are its female leads, St. Louisan Alexis Kinney, starring as Mary Lennox, and Kelly McCormick, as Lily. McCormick has a gorgeous, operatic singing voice, and conveys worlds of emotion with looks and glances; her character has very little dialogue outside of the songs she sings, but conveys a wide gamut of emotions nonetheless. Lily’s duets with Archibald are particularly moving, and it isn’t a stretch to see why he loved her so.

I have to plead a lack of impartiality when it comes to Ms Kinney, who I’m pleased to have followed for a number of years; she attended high school with one of my sons. As Mary, she is alternately spoiled, obstinate, and joyful, and Kinney runs the gamut of emotion seamlessly. Although she’s the lead, she doesn’t have as many good songs as the other cast members do, but duets nicely with Medeiros on “Wick” and “Show Me the Key”, and certainly holds her own on “The Girl I Mean to Be”.

Unfortunately, the script is not her friend; Mary’s emotional arc is there, but with more attention paid to the adults in this version than the children, her emotions seem almost random at times.

My one regret concerning the Stages St. Louis production of The Secret Garden is that I was not able to review it sooner; perhaps then more of you might have had the opportunity to see it. As it is, performances remain this weekend, August 19-21.

My rating:

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