The Court Theatre closes its 60th season with “the Secret Garden”; the classic Tony Award winning musical based on the beloved children’s book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, with music by Lucy Simon. Directed with aplomb by Charles Newell, with fabulous orchestrations by Doug Peck, this production fills the theater with every feeling and emotion that makes “The Secret Garden” so special. “This is a story, that, at its heart, suggests that the human spirit when broken can be healed, even in the midst of devastating pain and loss; that the power of love, understanding, and beauty is a force that can overcome all of life’s challenges. It is this belief that continues to inspire and provide hope.”
Young Mary Lennox has survived a cholera epidemic in the British Raj, that has sadly claimed the lives of her mother and father. Orphaned, she is sent to her uncle Archibald Craven’s house in England where she is faced with more loneliness and pain. Uncle Archibald is “paralyzed” by the loss of his wife Lily 10 years earlier and cannot face his crippled son Colin who is isolated in a wing of the large house. Colin has given up the hope of growing up and suggests that he is dying. Archibald refuses to open his arms to Mary. His brother, Neville, a doctor, has given up his practice to help Archibald and treat his son, and Neville sees Mary as a disruption that should be sent away to boarding school. Gloom and darkness hover over the household and it is Mary that must find the key to unlocking her relatives unhappiness!
This is a wonderful production skillfully directed by Charles Newell. He has intelligently staged the show to work on a more compact setting and his attention to the task shows in every scene. The first act sets the story in motion and gives the audience a clear picture of the characters. Newell presents the “ghosts” of lost loved ones “floating” behind a sheer curtain and then utilizes them in the chorus throughout the production. He helps us understand how our past experiences can influence and help us shape our future. He artfully brings us all into the garden at the end and shares the happiness that everyone thought was never to be found.
Doug Peck’s orchestrations are phenomenal! He has included a sitarand an oud*in the mix to add more realism to the score. Every number is balanced and lovely. He and Newell have also beautifully integrated the flute into the production as we see the robin red breast helping Mary find the key she seeks.
Mary Lennox is played by Tori Whaples with assertiveness and charm. She has a lovely voice and just the right amount of attitude to convince us that she will make things better. Her, “I Heard Someone Crying” is haunting and squeezes great emotion from the listener. She is only a 6th grader and based on this performance there will be much success in her future.
Elizabeth Ledo is terrific as Martha, a chambermaid, who along with her brother Dickon, played by the entertaining Aubrey McGrath, and the gardener, Ben, strongly portrayed by James Earl Jones II help Mary find her way to Lily’s Secret Garden.
The anguish and pain that is Uncle Archibald Craven is indelibly carved in the face of Rob Lindley who gives his role the emotion and voice that makes the audience feel his sadness. He shows strong vocals in the wonderful number, “Lily’s Eyes” that he sings with his brother Dr. Neville Craven, played by Jeff Parker, who shows his wonderful voice as well. It is this number that gives a glimpse of why Neville has kept his nephew Colin in a wheelchair for so long. Did he long for Lily as well?
Colin Craven is portrayed by Trent Noor and he shows great presence and timing as he fences with Mary. The two cousins have many differences, but it is Mary who helps him overcome the desperation that has been his for 10 years. Charles Newell’s staging of Colin’s miraculous recovery is magic and the reunion with his father brings a tear to the eye.
Allison Sill is Mary’s mother and Kevin Webb plays her father. Throughout the play their spirits feed Mary the memories that help her manage her loneliness. But it is Lily, played by the fabulous Jennie Sophia, whose spirit directs Mary to the right place and gives her the way to bring happiness back to the family. Her magnificent voice is showcased in “Come to My Garden” and the duet near the end with Archibald, “How Did I Ever Know” is a marvelous piece of singing by both performers.
Both Marya Grandy as Mrs. Medlock, the housekeeper, and Aika Nayyar as Ayah, provide strong supporting performances.
In the end, it is the artistry of Charles Newell, the mesmerizing arrangements of Doug Peck, and the energy of a perfectly balanced cast that make this production so good. This musical is rarely produced and it is wonderful gift that the Court Theatre has given to the Chicago theater community. It should not be missed!
Schedule: Wed & Thurs.: 7:30PM
Saturdays: 3:00PM & 8:00PM
Sundays: 2:30PM & 7:30PM
Location: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL
Tickets: $45-$65, $25 for children 4-15
Box Office: (773) 753-4472 or www.Courttheatre.org
FREE Parking is available in the garage next to the theater.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Secret Garden”.
* For those unfamiliar with the oud, it is a specialized lute-like instrument used in Turkish, Armenian and Greek music.