BWW Reviews: THE SECRET GARDEN at Chattanooga Theatre Center
Chattanooga Theatre Center started their 2013-2014 season with a bang. Family friendly musical The Secret Garden opened on September 6th with direction by Mike Lees and choreography by Jessica Laliberte Bowman.
The Secret Garden is based on the children's novel of the same name, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book & lyrics for the musical are by Marsha Norman with music from Lucy Simon. If you happen to be a fan of the novel, you will notice some story changes, but nothing that affects the overall story. The novel seems to focus more on the view from Mary Lennox's, the main character, point of view.
The musical pulls in more of the adults, creating a story for them, to round out the storyline for the stage. The audience is taken on a trip with a little girl who is thrust into a situation different from any she's known before and she must adjust, adapt, and in the process she changes and changes those around her in a more positive way.
The lead character of Mary Lennox is played by Sarah Grayce Crouch. Mary Lennox is an odd turned and contrary child when we first meet her and Sarah Grayce Crouch did a wonderful job with her disinterest and her annoyance with the things going on around her. Throughout the show, we see Mary develop into a headstrong and stubborn child, but a child with a heart that wants to be loved. Miss Crouch develops Mary in a way that is beautiful to watch.
Mary's first real friends at her new home with her reclusive uncle are housemaid Martha, played by Kendra Gross and Martha's brother Dickon, played by Jonathan Goff. Goff may well have been the most talented and charismatic actor on stage. Vocally, he's nearly flawless, and he manages to inhabit his character so well that it took me three-fourths of the show to realize I'd seen him in Chattanooga Theatre Center's production of Legally Blonde earlier in the summer. Any time he's onstage, you can't help but follow him. Both Goss and Goff did an amazing job with the dialects that were required as well.
Mary's uncle Archie was played by Josh Ruben. I loved the development of this character that you never truly get to know well in the novel. In the musical, Archie is given a story that includes how deep his pain runs for his lost love Lily. Ruben gave the multidimensional character of Archie the depth needed to exhibit his heartbreak.
An interesting aspect of the stage musical is the darkness that inhabits the storyline. There are constant reminders of the past, in the form of ghosts and memories that are played out on stage in nearly every scene. While it wasn't scary in the least, it was a little heavy emotionally. There were things that I'm sure the youngest audience members didn't relate to being terribly sad or heavy, but I'm most certain the adults in the audience picked up on. Perhaps that is the mark of a good show, being able to get different stories across to your audience members without alienating the other audience members.
The set design for the show was done by director Mike Lees as well. It was simple, but I have to compliment Mr. Lees on his ability to make the set simple and easily changed, without taking away from its ultimate purpose: to mentally take the audience to the scene. There are many set and scene changes throughout the show, so a set that was easily moved and relatively simple worked very well.
The Secret Garden is certainly a show for all ages. Enjoyable and beautiful, it would be perfect to take your children or your friends. The Secret Garden runs at Chattanooga Theatre Center thru September 22nd. You can purchase tickets by visiting their website HERE or by calling the box office at 423-267-8534.