The children’s timeless classic, The Secret Garden, comes alive on stage at The Colonial Players of Annapolis, in the musical version written by Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman.
Director Lois Evans and Producers Charlotte Robinson and Mary Beth Yablonski, deliver a light-hearted production. The story is about the newly-orphaned Mary Lennox who has to leave India to live with her reclusive uncle, Archibald Craven, and invalid cousin, Colin Craven. In the opening, Mary (Madi Heinemann) is escorted by the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Cristina Shunk), to Archibald Craven’s mansion.
From the beginning, Mary is fraught with anger over the death of her parents and responds with a sharp tongue and an emphatic, “No!” Her anger is often demonstrated with the stomping of her feet and raising clenched fists. She does as she pleases, but it is in her curiosity that she discovers the mansion’s gardens. Heinemann convincingly displays the roller coaster of emotions that this role demands of her. She sings beautifully in “I Heard Someone Crying,” “Show Me the Key,” and “The Girl I Mean to Be,” which opens the second act.
Shunk’s Mrs. Medlock is poised and proper as she holds her chin up, shoulders down, and her posture in a straight line. Ruling with an iron fist, nothing could make Mrs. Medlock smile as she abuses her authority to keep Mary and Colin apart and Shunk plays her forcefully.
Ella Green is a delight as Martha, the chambermaid, who is exuberant and full of life with her fast-as-lightning dialogue and exuberant body language. She is immediately taken by Mary and greets the young girl by singing “If I had a Fine White Horse,” where she tells her that she would take Mary for a horse ride. Green’s solo is met with light humor and a thick Irish accent. Her peptalk to Mary in the second act called “Hold On” is delivered with love and gusto.
Young Reid Murphy, who plays Colin Craven, is adorable even when he rants about lumps in his back and throws a tantrum about dying. He lights up when Hennemann, as Mary, comes to visit him and as the storyline progresses. It’s as if Mary’s strength transfers to Colin.
Murphy and Heinemann have great chemistry together (as cousins usually do) and they are very well-paired for their characters. Together, they deliver a fine performance of “Round-Shouldered Man,” and Murphy harmonizes beautifully with Lindsay Espinosa, who plays Colin’s deceased mother Lily, as she sings “Come to Come to My Garden and he replies by singing the heartwarming “Lift Me Up.”
Justin T. Ritchie portrays the tortured and grieving Archibald Craven. Here he is portrayed more empathetic than evil and it works for this production. He is reasonable with Mary and how he converses with her. He delivers fine vocal renditions of “A Bit of Earth,” “A Girl in the Valley,” and “How Could I Ever Know?,” where he harmonizes beautifully with his deceased wife Lily (Lindsay Espinosa), and sings a distraught and fiery “Where in the World.”
Ritchie’s smooth vocals also resonate in “Quartet,” sung with Neville (Cleaver), Lily (Espinosa), and Rose (McMunigal). Many of the songs with multi-cast members are performed in rounds, and it adds to the magic of the play.
Dr. Neville Craven, Archibald’s brother, is portrayed by Kevin Cleaver, and he perfectly shows the many sides of Neville’s personality. Though he starts out a gentleman, his personality shifts as his resentments come to light. He raises his voice to Medlock and later to his brother. Cleaver’s rich voice is displayed in his duet, “Lily’s Eyes” with Ritchie, and again in his fiery solo “Disappear.”
Lindsay Espinosa, as Lily Craven, is stunning in her white cotton and lace gown. Her hair is pulled up with wisps of hair framing her face. Her expressions of love and longing are apparent in her duets with Colin (Murphy) in “Come to My Garden,” and then later with Archie (Ritchie) in “How Could I Ever Know.” Her opera-like vocals melds the ensemble together that brings about both powerful and playful numbers.
Martha’s Brother Dickon, played with warmth by Samuel Edward Ellis, befriends Mary at the garden wall. These two become friends as the work a bit of earth. He introduces the power of nature in his opening solo “Winter’s on the Wing,” and he and Heinemann are out of this world with their duet, “Wick,” an energetic number that proves the secret garden is very much alive.
Danny Brooks is endearing and charming as Ben Weatherstaff, the Gardener. His face lights up when he speaks to the children. He joins Dickon and Mary on “It’s a Maze.”
Erin Branigan is assertive and aggressive as Mrs. Winthrop – the take-charge woman who displays impolite behavior toward Mary.
The ensemble cast, also known as Mary’s spirit guides, deserves equal billing as they lend a broad range of vocals. The Company opens with “There’s a Girl,” and “The House Upon the Hill.” Company members include: Heather McMunigal (Rose Lennox , Mary’s Mother); Kory Twit (Captain Albert Lennox, Mary’s Father); Greg Anderson (Lieutenant Peter Wright); Cory Jones (Major Holmes); Kaitlin Fish (Claire Holmes); Kyle González (Lieutenant Shaw); and Kaelynn Miller (Alice, Rose’s Friend). The Spirit Guide Women’s dresses are all soft white and accented with lace.
The Spirit Guide Men wear white uniforms accented by a gold sash. They include Aubrey Baden III (Fakir) and Kaitlin Fish (Ayah), who is dressed beautifully in traditional Indian apparel made of linen, silks, and rich, lush colors – representing Mary’s life in India. The Company takes part in “Storm I” and “Final Storm” at the end of Act I. The entire company is on stage for the Finale: “The Garden.”
Set Designer Laurie Nolan, along with Set and Floor Painters Mary Butcher and Kaelynn Miller, call on the audience’s imagination to envision the set locales via the minimalistic set. The perimeter of the theater is decorated with tissue paper flowers and foliage. Clever and unique is the white camouflage hanging from the ceiling that is indicative of the secret garden when lit with just the right colors. The painted floor outlines the shape and shades the cast from the trees.
Projections on the walls indicate a variety of locations within the Craven mansion and Mary’s beloved India is also represented. A chaise lounge is the only furniture piece on stage and it serves its purpose well as Mary’s bed and then Colin’s. Jim Robinson designed and constructed the wheelbarrow that the kids use to transport Colin to the secret garden.
Lighting Designer Eric Lund, Sound Designer (Effects) Julien Jaques, and Sound Designers (Music) Wes Bedsworth and Kaelynn Miller magnificently tie together the effects that accentuate the set design as well as move the storyline along. Add in Carol Cohen’s staging/choreography with Music Director, Wendy Baird, and what goes on behind the scenes is just as important as to what happens on stage.
Jean Carroll Christie and the costume crew do a fine job coordinating, designing, and constructing the time-period costumes, which beautifully display each one of the characters’ personalities.
Mary starts off in a sailor’s dress and later in the production her dress is blue with a flower motif, striped collar, with a white apron, and ankle high boots.
Mrs. Madlock is clothed in dark attire and while it is sensible for her job, her attire is an extension of her dark personality. Martha’s dark green dress is practical with its simple lines and white apron. A kerchief and ankle high boots completes her costume.
Colin spends most the show in a long gown (night wear), slippers, and many times he is wrapped in a blanket. Archibald is dressed in reserved attire – a grey suit with tails, a white shirt, and an ascot tie. Like his brother Archibald, Neville is also dressed in a jacket that has tails, in pin-striped pants, and a white shirt with an ascot tie.
Dickon dons a cap, neck scarf, a white shirt, knicker trousers and rain boots. He carries a staff with a snake wrapped around the top knot and wears a carrying bag. Ben wears similar costuming as Dickon except that he wears a button down sweater vest and a short coat. Mrs. Winthrop is dressed in a long silk skirt and bonnet, plus a short dark wool coat.
Whether it’s a startling flash a lightning, a child’s crying in the night, or brightly color dress panels, the production staff proves they are a well-oiled machine, and they deliver a cohesive an impressive production.
The Secret Garden has been a cherished story for 100 years, and will hopefully be for 100 more. From novel, to movie, to musical, The Secret Garden is a captivating story about learning to forgive, learning to let go, and learning to love again.
The Colonial Players’ in-the-round production of The Secret Garden is blooming with visual delights and rich vocals that envelop the audience and fill the theater with joy. The Secret Garden is a must see for all ages.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.