“The Secret Garden” Blooms Again At Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre

Secret Garden

“The Secret Garden” blooms again at the 5th Avenue Theatre. The production is being touted as a revival, with plans to move it to Broadway.

The original musical opened on Broadway in April 1991 and played 709 performances. Lucy Simon (Carly’s sister) wrote the music; Pulitzer Prize-winner Marsha Norman wrote the book and lyrics. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, the show won two, Marsha Norman for Best Book of a musical, and 11-year-old, Daisy Eagan, the youngest performer to win a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She brought an amazing sensitivity to her role as the orphaned Mary, crying genuine tears every night during the performance.

Eagan is all grown up now, but she has joined the revival as an adult, playing Martha, the chambermaid.

The hauntingly beautiful Broadway musical is based on the 1911 novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It tells the tale of 10-year-old Mary Lennox, a young English girl born and raised in the British Raj until she is orphaned by a cholera pandemic.

The Secret Garden

Tony Award-winner Daisy Eagan (left) returns to The Secret Garden as Martha in a spectacular new co-production between The 5th Avenue Theatre and the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. Egan is pictured here opposite Anya Rothman (right) as Mary Lennox. (Photo credit Scott Schuman)

She is sent to Yorkshire, England, to live with the grieving Archibald Craven, an uncle she has never met. His crumbling mansion is full of secrets, a crippled cousin she never knew she had, spirits and ghosts of the past, and her late aunt’s walled-off garden, which Mary is determined to bring back to life. Her own personality blossoms as does the neglected garden, her sickly cousin and reclusive uncle. The gothic musical evolves from grief, deception and lost love to find hope and ultimately, redemption.

The current production, directed by 5th Avenue’s artistic director, David Armstrong, was produced in conjunction with the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. It will play at the 5th Avenue Theatre April 14-May 6, followed by runs at other regional theaters. The producers hope to move the revival to Broadway, but arrangements are not yet definite.

Cast members reprising their roles from the D.C. run are Daisy Eagan as the chambermaid Martha, Lizzie Klemperer as Lily Craven, Josh Young as Dr. Neville Craven, Charlie Franklin as Dickon, and Sean G. Griffin as Ben Weatherstaff.

Newcomers to the cast include: Tam Mutu as Lennox’s melancholy Uncle Archibald Craven, Bea Corley as Mary Lennox, Marianne Owen as Mrs. Medlock, Brittany Baratz as Rose, Maya Mainar as Ayah, Jason Forbach as Captain Albert Lennox, Johann George as Fakir, and Guthrie Greenwood Bettinger alternating with Coleman Hunter as Colin Craven.

The 5th Avenue production has added new songs, and some of the original songs (“Round-Shouldered Man”, “Quartet”, and “Race You to the Top of the Morning”) have been deleted. This was done to tighten the show and reduce its running time. The revised production promises stunning sets and costumes, a gorgeous score, and rich, lush story-telling.

“The Secret Garden” is not one of those big, splashy mega-hits, nor was it meant to be. Its Verdi-esque, emotional melodies, according to former New York Times critic Frank Rich, were more suited to opera than to Broadway.

In the 1991 show, the egotistical but brilliant Mandy Patinkin played Uncle Archibald, a hunchback who lives in fear that his son Colin will inherit his deformity. At the opening night soiree, Mandy’s hump stirred up a debate. Naysayers complained that his hump was barely noticeable–more of a suggestion than a reality–to which Broadway insiders whispered back he had refused a larger hump.

However, Patinkin had the last word. When asked what the music was like, he replied, “It is like children’s music– once you hear it, you can’t forget it.”

“The Secret Garden” runs April 14th to May 6th, at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Tickets start at $29, available online at www.5thavenue.org or the Box Office at (206) 625-1900.

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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