Review: “The Secret Garden” at Other Voices Theatre

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Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s The Secret Garden boasts one of the most gorgeous scores in the history of musical theatre, but is rarely undertaken by community theatre groups due to its musical and technical complexity. Director Susan Thornton and Other Voices Theatre in Frederick have exceeded the challenge of mounting this heart-wrenching story and its haunting music.

Photo courtesy of Other Voices Theatre.

The musical, based on Frances Hodgson Burnette’s 1911 novel, tells the tale of 10-year-old Mary Lennox (Serena Parrish) who loses her parents to cholera in turn of the century British Raj. She is delivered to the care of her gloomy uncle Archibald Craven (Rennes D. Carbaugh) in Yorkshire, England. Though Archibald and his crippled son Colin (an endearing Jonathan Dodson) similarly mourn the loss of wife and mother Lily (Lisa Dodson), new hope for the family begins to blossom when Mary discovers Lily’s secret garden.

Core to Other Voices’ success is the star turn by 13-year-old Serena Parrish as Mary Lennox, the role that made 11-year-old Daisy Eagan the youngest female Tony winner in 1991. As Mary – musical theatre’s “anti-Annie Warbucks” role for a child actor – Parrish carries the emotional heft of an orphaned girl acting out in response to the loss of her parents, providing the heart of the play. The production blossoms with Mary’s journey to redemption. Parrish gives a flawless performance of this demanding role.

Equally moving is Rennes D. Carbaugh as the tormented Archibald Craven. Carbaugh is well matched vocally with Lisa Dodson’s operatic and angelic Lily in duets like “How Could I Ever Know,” as well as with Eric Jones as Dr. Craven in the soaring “Lily’s Eyes.” Jones elicits some sympathy for the draconian Dr. Craven, particularly through his phrasing of “Disappear.” As the maid Martha, Desiree Denton belts a stellar rendition of “Hold On.” Young Bryce Leber brings animation and charisma to the role of Dickon, and with continued training will be better equipped to handle the vocal demands of dynamic showstoppers like “Winter’s On The Wing.”

Director Thornton tells a well-paced story with fluid staging, often allowing Music Director Jonas Dawson’s lush ensemble vocals to take center stage (Dawson’s impressive 15 piece orchestra is more than icing on top of a delightful production). At times it is difficult to differentiate between the dead characters and the living ones, though blurring those lines also creates an interesting and unique new dimension to the material. Through various pantomimed scenes, Thornton admirably fills out the backstory of Mary’s deceased parents, Captain Albert Lennox (Thomas Bricker) and Rose Lennox (Jennifer Pagano), which helps Pagano transcend the text’s depiction of Rose as a mere two-dimensional adversary to Lily and Archibald’s courtship. The entire design team creates theatrical magic in the black box venue, most notably Lee Hebb (Scenic Design) and Steve Knapp (Lighting Design), who pull out some real surprises right up to the end.

Seating for the final weekend is already limited, so move quickly to get your tickets. The Secret Garden has never sounded better!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

The Secret Garden plays through August 13, 2017, at Other Voices Theatre performing at The Performing Arts Factory – 244 South Jefferson Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets call (866) 967-8167, or purchase them online.

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