Highly Recommended ***** There is a new theater company on the North Shore. Lake Forest Theatre, new to the scene, in its home at The John & Nancy Hughes Theatre, opened its 2016/2017 inaugural season tonight with “The Secret Garden” based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett with the book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and the music by Lucy Simon. First, of all, let me say, this was a large production to select for a first and based on the wonder of what this new company brings to the stage, they have set the bar pretty high for the season to follow!
Artistic Director, Steve Malone, who is also the actual director of this production, has found a solid bank of extraordinary talent to do this show. When I found out that my granddaughter had just completed the book, I asked her to join me, so she could express the feelings of an 8-year old third grade girl. The first thing Sarah noticed is that one of the characters in the play is named Sarah Shaw. Brought a big smile to her face ( she is my little actress, having been on this very stage with her theater group).
The story, for those who are unfamiliar with “The Secret Garden” follows an eleven-year-old orphan, Mary Lennox (played to perfection tonight by Kailey Albus- the show is double cast, with Carly Meyer taking on the role on alternate dates), who has been raised in India, being sent to live with her Uncle Archibald (deftly handled by Edward Fraim) in England. He resides on a large estate with several gardens, among them, a very special “Secret Garden” where his late wife, Lily ( the lovely Michelle Jasso ) whom we later meet as a ghost.. As the story goes, she gave birth to her ill son, Colin ( a delightful performance by Zachary Fewkes, who Lake Forest recently watched play “Oliver” down the street at Citadel) in that garden prior to passing away and since then the garden has been locked and off- limits. Archibald’s brother, Dr. Neville Craven (Edward MacLennan, who has some great pipes) was also in love with Lily and as we learn more about him, we see that he is not who we think he is and his actions are not as they appear.
From the onset of the story, when we first meet Mary and the spirits that surround her, we get the feeling of eeriness and some mystery. One must pay close attention to know which of the players are actual and which are spirits. The story is about forgiveness and renewal, and while there are no “hummable” tunes, the music is sheer perfection in telling the story and propelling the action. I applaud Malone and his Board of Directors in both taking on this huge challenge for its first show , and of greater importance, pulling it off perfectly!
Aaron Kaplan, musical director/conductor and his fourteen musicians make this music truly wonderful without ever drowning out the performers. This is a high-tech initial offering where the conductor can be seen by the performers on a TV screen above the audience. The orchestra is backstage and it worked- big time. This is a deep stage and while the sets are not huge and flying, often relying on the cast members to bring things on and off, again, it worked! David Geinosky’s set design and another David, Lundholn’s costumes were also delightful. For a “first”, everything seemed to be as professional as if this company has been doing this for years.
Other cast members: Logan Aldrich,Gemma Gardner, Ashley MacDougal, Aaron Mann, Elizabeth Mazur (as Martha, Mary’s ally ), Margaret Garofolo, Sophie Kaegi ( of course, my granddaughter’s special performer since her role is that of Sarah Shaw), Laura Martino, Michelle McKenzie-Voigt (as Mrs. Medlock, the assistant to Archibald Craven), Rachel Meloan, Lauren Miller, Natalie Rae, Ken Rubenstein (as Ben, the gardener), Melanie Vitaterna, Carl Meyer ( tonight Suzette), Chase Peacock, Dustin Rothbart (as Dickon, Martha’s brother) and as Mary’s parent Allison Stake and Daniel Wilson ( we only see them as ghosts). a large and very talented cast, indeed!
Sarah’s notes ( my Sarah- not the character in the play): She felt the story was wonderful and closely followed the book that she had read. She was impressed with Colin and his recovery and of course, the happy ending. She was concerned when they were going to ship Mary off to boarding school, but when she did not go and the uncle realized that his son was okay, that meant they could all be a family and be happy! She is so right. By the way, Jane attended with us, and not once did she close her eyes or doze off- that is why Sarah and I agreed that instead of four stars, this is a definite *****.
“The Secret Garden” will continue at the John & Nancy Hughes Theatre, located at 400 East Illinois Road in Lake Forest thru July 2nd with performances as follows:
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets are $49 ( you can purchase a season ticket for $120, saving $10 per show) and can be ordered by calling 847-604-4975 or e-mailing Pamela at Pamela@LakeForestTheatre.org.
There is plenty of free parking, lots of dining spots in downtown Lake Forest and you can even get to the theater by train. Lake Forest Theatre Company, welcome to our world!
To learn more about the theater and its upcoming season, visit www.LakeForesTheatre.orghttp://www.LakeForestTheatre.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Secret Garden”