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Theater Review: “The Secret Garden”

“The Secret Garden” plays through December 24, 2017 at New Village Arts,
Photo credit:
AJ Knox

Photo credit for all photos is Daren Scott, with the exception of the first two photos (with the characters in all brown), and that photo credit is Shaun Hagen

Newly orphaned Mary Lennox (newcomer Sara Mahaffey) is understandably grumpy. She’s just been sent from India (where her parents and nearly everyone she knew succumbed to cholera) to the gloomy Yorkshire estate of her hunchbacked uncle Archibald (David S. Humphrey). 

She becomes even more so when she finds out her uncle wants to send her off to boarding school. And after she meets the estate’s passel of ghosts who inhabit the place – freely walking about, frequently singing – she’s really wondering what she’s gotten into.

It’s the 1991 musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous children’s novel “The Secret Garden,” with a romantic score by Lucy Simon and book by Marsha Norman, playing through Dec. 24 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad. Rosina Reynolds directs.

The other inhabitants of Misselthwaite Manor are almost as sour as Mary’s disposition. Uncle Archie and his brother, Dr. Neville Craven (Manny Fernandes) both still bemoan the loss of Archie’s wife Lily (they were both in love with her). Housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Dagmar Krause Fields) is a less than jolly presence.

But there are two notable exceptions. One is Aunt Lily’s ghost, a wonderful golden-voiced soprano actress named Samantha Rose Steinberg. The other is chambermaid Martha (Samantha Vesco), cheery of disposition and rich of voice, who also plays one of the ghosts. 

Mary sets out to find a secret garden she’s heard about, hoping for an escape from her dreary existence. She gets help from the delightful plant wizard Dickon (Chris Bona), an interesting character who talks to plants, animals and other creatures of nature. He teaches Mary how to talk to a robin. The bird shows Mary where the key to the garden is (but not the door to it).

This is the magic she’s needed, and soon she’s changed her outlook, started her own garden, even helped her young cousin Colin (Jacob Farry) back to health.

“The Secret Garden” is a lengthy (2 hours, 20 min.) piece of musical Gothic storytelling. I had trouble with the sound – could be me, could be the setup, but it was difficult to understand much of what was said. Other critics have suggested there was an attempt at a Yorkshire accent. Maybe that was it. On the other hand, the singing was quite clear.

Kudos to Nadia Guevara, for her ghost choreography and to music director Tony Houck and his five-member offstage band. The ghost chorus acquits itself nicely too, and Elisa Benzoni has created some lovely Edwardian costumes.

“The Secret Garden” is an interesting effort, needing a bit of work.

The details

“The Secret Garden” plays through December 24, 2017 at New Village Arts,

2787 State Street, Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or www.newvillagearts.org