Interview: Youngest Tony-Winner in History, Daisy Eagan, Prepares for Her Return to THE SECRET GARDEN

By: Nov. 06, 2016

At eleven years old, Daisy Eagan became (and remains today) the youngest actress ever to win the Tony Award for the Best Performance by A Featured Actress in a Musical when she captured the hearts of adults and children alike as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.

In the intervening years, while Daisy's career has brought her back to Broadway, it has also sent her across the country on a national tour, three self-penned one-woman shows, world premieres at South Coast Rep and La Jolla Playhouse, numerous television appearances, starring roles in film, leads on Los Angeles' most prestigious stages, and much, much more.

Now, after over twenty years (minus an appearance in a concert version of the show in 2015, starring a fellow Broadway child star, Sydney Lucas) Daisy will make her way back into The Secret Garden, starring as Martha in a revised version of the show being produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC.

As she prepares to return to the garden in her first fully-staged production since the show's initial Tony-winning New York run, BroadwayWorld was able to chat with Daisy about her legacy with the show, what changes fans can expect from the new production, and the larger importance of Mary Lennox within the canon of roles for child actors and female representation in pop culture overall. Read all of Daisy's incredible insights in our interview below.

How has it been returning to the show again?

It's really sort of a surreal experience. That first day walking in and sitting around the table and reading through the show was really just surreal. It's funny because when I did the concert back in February it didn't feel as strange as this does, I don't know why. I was bracing for it to be really trippy but for some reason that experience didn't hit me in a surreal way as this one is. But in a good way. And this will be very different from the original production. Marsha and Lucy are making some changes and David's got a very different vision that Susan did and so it's interesting and exciting and going as well as anybody would hope.

I was reading that there are some changes being made for this production. What sorts of changes can we expect from the show and how have they, if at all, re-illuminated this show that you have such a long history with?

It's been a real gift of an opportunity. People don't usually get this chance to sort of develop a show twice. And usually when you're doing a revival, the words on the page are the words that you have to say. We're lucky in this because we have the opportunity to say, "This doesn't make sense to me." In some ways it's like working on an original piece from the ground up, getting to work through moments, and if something doesn't work we can figure out a way to change it which is certainly a nice thing to be able to do. But I also have to sort of separate myself from like, "Do I not understand this because its different?" or "Do I not understand it because I don't understand it?" And so I have to sort of work through that on my own and sort of do a little soul searching before I ask questions.

I don't know how much you're at liberty to divulge, but what sorts of changes can fans expect from this revival?

I don't know how much I can divulge either but I can tell you that there are some songs that have been cut. There's one new number that's sort of a play on one of the numbers that already existed. But I think that one of the major complaints with the original was its length. And I think this has been a great opportunity for Marsha and Lucy to go back with 25 more years of experience and knowledge, not that they didn't have enough to begin with, and make changes that they didn't know needed to be there until it was too late last time around. I think that their feeling is that they are making changes that help to streamline the story, to clean it up a bit. Remove any ambiguities or make some of the story lines just a little clearer.

How do you feel, if at all, does your history with the character Mary inform your interactions with Mary as Martha?

I think that I'm coming from a really fortunate place as an actor that not many actors get to have, which is that I think I have an insight to the character that possibly an actor playing this role normally wouldn't have, just by virtue of never having played Mary before. So I think I do have a sort of insight into Mary, an obviously I can relate to that character on a very, very deep level because of having played that role, and also because of the similarities in my own personal life to what Mary was going through. But it's funny, it's hard to say whether or not I would feel the same way about Martha, or about Martha's relationship to Mary, had I not had the history with the show that I have.

Do you find that you've become a touchstone at all for the girls playing Mary at all?

I think that so far with the two girls I've worked with now, Sydney [Lucas] and Anya [Rothman], they're certainly aware, but I think that in some ways it's different because they weren't alive back then. So it's like this kid thing of knowing about it and not being able to like concretely relate to something that happened from history. I think it's more like, "Oh neat, she was in this before and she won a Tony." But it's not my place to give them anything. Occasionally, like today we were going over the letter song and there was a technical issue where Anya was unsure of how to write the words as fast as she was singing them, and he was like, "Well, how did you do it, Daisy?" I try not to give my opinion unless I'm asked, which to be perfectly honest, can be a little difficult, but I just have to stay on my side of the road.

I read an interview with the New York Times that you felt some resentment toward your heavy association with the show for awhile after you left the show, but that you had made peace with it in the intervening years. What was it that allowed you to push that resentment aside and return to the show?

On a base level, I like to work. So when I'm given the opportunity to work, I generally try to take it. When the concert was announced, I campaigned for the part. I knew that I wanted to do it and I was very aggressive about it. I think the resentment I felt when I was younger was sort of a mix of being a teenager, and teenagers are sort of resentful of alot of things, and not understanding how lucky I was. I think, generally speaking, for this show and returning to it in this role particularly, is giving me a chance to go back and heal part of my younger self, that part of myself that's still a little girl whose mom is sick. And so, I'm quite lucky again, to be able to do that. So I think that I recognized that this would be a restorative experience. But also, the book had meant a great deal to me when I was growing up, long before the play ever came about, I was a big fan of the book as a kid. And I just think it's a beautiful story and an important story. I'm just drawn to it and I'm proud to be a part of it.

And I guess before "Secret Garden", in terms of shows that were led by kids, there was really just "Annie." And so Mary was a very different character than Annie. And since "Secret Garden" I think we've come a long way in terms of girls leading shows. You've got "Fun Home" and "Matilda" and "School of Rock." But, in some ways I think precocity has been added back, and I think Mary is sort of a more grounded character than alot of the more modern characters since then. And I think it's important for girls to have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in popular culture and I think Mary is a really good representation of that. She is deeply flawed. She's certainly been put upon, but she's mean and she's rude and she's bratty and she's entitled, but she finds resources inside herself to over come what's happened to her. And I don't think we get to see alot of that. And so, I think it's important and I'm proud to be a part of telling that story.


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