‘The Secret Garden’ at Center Stage

When I was a child, I read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel, The Secret Garden. Like many other children my age, I relished the loveliness of the story and wished for a garden of my own. Although Burnett’s novel is beautifully written, I felt as though I truly saw the story come alive in the production of The Secret Garden at Center Stage.

Kevin Early and Brandi Burkhardt. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Kevin Early (Archibald Craven) and Brandi Burkhardt (Lily Craven). Photo by Richard Anderson.

With a Tony Award-winning book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, The Secret Garden tells the story of young Mary Lennox, who is left orphaned after her parents die of cholera in India. Sent to live with her uncle Archibald in the English moors, Mary quickly discovers that the old and spooky house holds many ghosts and secrets. Through the help of the household staff, Mary finds the magnificent garden that once belonged to her beloved aunt Lily, but as she prepares to open those garden gates, she uncovers much more than she could ever have expected.

The amazing Caitlin Cohn powerfully portrays Mary Lennox. In addition to demonstrating her beautiful operatic voice in songs such as “I Heard Someone Crying,” Cohn shows her incredible vocal range in “Come Spirit, Come Charm.” If you want to be truly amazed, AFTER seeing the show, look up Caitlin Cohn’s age—it will make her performance seem even more impressive!

I could not help but gasp when a spotlight first shone on the lovely Brandi Burkhardt as Lily Craven. And when she beautifully trilled the first notes of “Come to My Garden,” I immediately got goose bumps. I considered downloading the recording of The Secret Garden, but I felt as though no one could sing Lily’s part as exquisitely as Burkhardt.

Kevin Earley excellently plays the strong yet vulnerable Archibald Craven.  Along with Adam Monley, who plays the conflicted Dr. Neville Craven, the two delivered an incredibly moving performance of “Lily’s Eyes.” Earley delivered a moving “A Bit of Earth” and “Race You to the Top of the Morning,” which Archibald sings with much heart to his son Colin.

With beautiful voices and playful demeanors, Charlotte Maltby and Cameron Bartell are delightful as household workers, Martha and Dickon. And Dathan B. Williams was delightful and Ben the Gardener. Malty sang a powerful “If I Had A Fine White Horse” with Cohn and Batell energetically sang “Winter’s on the Wing” with Cohn.

Anthony Frederickson is remarkable as Colin Craven, showing the comical yet sensitive sides of the character. He and Burkhardt sang beautifully on “Come to My Garden” and ‘Lift Me Up.”

Anthony Frederickson and Caitlin Cohn. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Anthony Frederickson (Colin Craven) and Caitlin Cohn (Mary Lennox). Photo by Richard Anderson.

Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s directorial and choreography choices are absolutely perfect. She transitions the story between the present and the past with ease, and her idea to turn the live characters into a portrait gallery is brilliant. Her choreography has a creative variation, ranging from the lovely waltz between Lily and Archibald to the emotional dancing during the “Final Storm” at the end of Act I.

Sariva Goetz should be incredibly proud of her musical direction, as the performance of her orchestra (conducted by Michael Sebastian) was absolutely gorgeous.

Thanks to Sound Designer David Bullard, every note and word was clearly heard, and Lighting Designer Matthew Richards’ use of color and shadows made for an even more magical experience.

Leon Wiebers deserves enormous recognition for his exquisite costume design. The teal blue of many of the costumes beautifully catch the light, and Lily’s pink embroidered ballgown is the stuff of every little girl’s dreams!

The most whimsical element to the production is the set, designed by Narelle Sissons. Almost every aspect of the set either includes passages from the original novel or appears to be made out of paper. It is truly a sight to behold and one of the most creative sets that I have seen in a long time.

When Mary Lennox asks her uncle about ghosts, Archibald replies, “People are only ghosts if someone is still holding on to them.” If that is the case, then this show will follow me around like a ghost for a long time, because Center Stage’s lush and moving production of The Secret Garden is something that I want to hold on to forever.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

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The Secret Garden plays through November 29, 2015, at Center Stage – 700 North Calvert Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the Box Office at (410) 32-0033 or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

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