The musical version of the tale of an orphan, an uncle and a garden flourishes in Court's intimate production.
The general arc of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 story isn’t all that different from other such orphans’ tales. Mary Lennox (Tori Whaples, alternating at some performances with Maya Hlava) may start out surlier than Little Orphan Annie, for instance, but she still ends up bringing light and hope into a big old mansion and the life of the rich man who becomes her guardian—in this case, her mopey, widowed uncle Archibald (Rob Lindley). Maybe that explains why The Secret Garden made such a beautiful transition to musical theater in this adaptation by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, which debuted on Broadway in 1991 and is receiving a heartfelt and intimate revival at Court.
The mansion Lucy and Archibald share, along with Lucy’s sickly cousin Colin (Trent Noor, alternating with Jake Helm) and a host of endearing servants, is also peopled by ghosts. Some of them have trailed Mary from India—her parents (Allison Sill and Kevin Webb) and nursemaid (Alka Nayyar), all of whom died in a cholera outbreak. And then there’s Archibald’s late wife, Lily (Jennie Sophia), who was also the object of unrequited affection of Archibald’s brother, Neville (Jeff Parker). These spirits both observe and try to influence the living to bring about new growth. (Hint: There are going to be a lot of gardening metaphors.)
Charles Newell’s small-scale staging, spare with moments of thrilling lushness, benefits greatly from music director Doug Peck, who did his own orchestrations for the five-piece band (which includes a flutist, Suzanne Gillen, who also embodies an onstage character of sorts). Peck smartly brings some influence from Mary’s Indian upbringing into the mix; there was no sitar or oud in the Broadway production, but it works quite well to bring new light to Simon’s rich score—if you can make it through Aubrey McGrath’s “Wick,” that lilting hymn of harvesting and heartening, without tearing up a little, your heart is stonier than mine. With verdant performances all around, this Garden deserves to grow year-round.
Court Theatre. Book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Music by Lucy Simon. Directed by Charles Newell. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins; one intermission.