The story revolves around a young girl, Mary Lennox, living with her family in India in the early twentieth century, only to lose them to a cholera outbreak. She is sent to live with relatives in Yorkshire where she lives with an uncle (Archibald Craven), who is distraught over the death of his wife; his son (Colin), who is suffering from some unknown illness that leaves him bed-ridden; another uncle (Dr. Neville Craven), who is trying to treat the son and who may or may not be interested in obtaining the huge manor; a maid (Martha) who will help Mary adjust to the new home; the boys nanny (Mrs. Medlock}, who strives to keep the young girl away from the boy; a young gardener (Dickon), who befriends the girl and lots of ghosts. The ghosts include Mary’s mother and father (Albert and Rose), Mary’s nanny in India (Ayah), British officers who died in the cholera outbreak and Archibald’s wife (Lily).
First Photo by Shaun Hagen/Remainder by Daren Scott
The play is somber, with effective lighting creating an ominous mood for the old English manor especially when the ghosts (dreamers) appear on stage. As Mary wanders the manor, she can feel the presence of others around her. When she meets Dickon, the world of the garden brings a hope of change. When she finally finds the door to the secret garden, after she has found the key to the door, the light inside the garden shines brightly. Mary is an outspoken young lady who stands up to Dr. Neville and Colin. She knows she can make a difference and make changes for the better. She will also help Archibald come out of his malaise and come back to the world of the living rather than continually reflecting on his wife’s passing, his sons supposed ailment and his own personal disability.
It is not the most uplifting musical, for the most part, until the end, but the cast features remarkable voices, especially the lead roles of Mary, played by 13 year old Sara Mahaffey, making her professional theatre debut, and Lily, played by Samantha Rose Steinberg, making her NVA debut. As the ghost of Lily, Steinberg appears throughout the play with emotional and tender songs. For her first professional performance, Mahaffey has great stage presence and shows a good emotional range from anger to feistiness. Three strong male leads also had several numbers featuring very powerful voices and a wide range – Kevane La’Marr Coleman playing Albert Lennox, Manny Fernandes playing Dr. Neville Craven and David S. Humphrey playing Archibald Craven. All three male leads have performed by NVA in past performances. Samantha Vesco, as Martha, gives a strong performance in “Hold On” in Act II. Young Jacob Farry also gives an emotional performances as young Colin. NVA veteran Chris Bona also does a nice job with the difficult Yorkshire accent and performs well in “Winter’s on the Wing” and with Mary in “Wick”.
Under the direction of Rosina Reynolds, making her directorial debut, with music conductor Tony Houck, the moody story flows on the stage. The musical has been referred to as children’s theatre, a.k.a. moody children’s theatre. Elisa Benzoni provided perfect period piece costuming, pin point lighting by Lighting Designer Curtis Mueller, and sets by Christopher Scott Murillo and properties by Michelle Stann allowed the tone and look of the garden and manor to always be visible, even with a minimal set staging.
The musical won Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Scenic Design and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the then 11 year old Daisy Eagan. It was also nominated for Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Musical. It also won the Drama Desk Outstanding Musical, Best Book and Best Orchestra Score as well as being nominated for 10 other Drama Desk Awards.
The musical will run until December 24th at New Village Arts at 2787 State Street in downtown Carlsbad. Tickets are available by going to www.newvillagearts.org or call 760-433-3245. Next up for NVA will be “Cloud Tectonics” beginning Feb. 3rd.