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Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at Players On High At The Carlisle Theatre

The Players on High at the Carlisle Theatre presents The Secret Garden through June 26th

Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at Players On High At The Carlisle Theatre

The Secret Garden is truly a story that has stood the test of time. From its beginnings as a children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911 to several movie and television adaptations to the 1989 musical by Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman, The Secret Garden continues to appeal to generation after generation. The story is about a young girl, Mary, who, after being orphaned in India due to cholera, is sent to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven. As Mary adjusts (not without some resistance) to her new life, she begins to unravel the mysteries of her uncle's past and the lives of those who live within the walls of Misselthwaite Manor. It is a tale of love, loss, family, faith, and forgiveness-an emotional and haunting tale that continues to capture the imaginations of audiences of all ages. The Players on High at the Carlisle Theatre presents The Secret Garden through June 26th.

The audience's experience begins from the moment they enter the lobby, where they are greeted and entertained by student performers. The magic continues into the theatre itself, where projections are used to make the audience feel as though they are in the midst of a beautiful English garden. The projections are one of the most fascinating parts of this production as they enable the audience to travel with Mary and Mrs. Medlock through the moors to the manor; explore the grounds and the gardens with Mary, Ben, and Dickon; and dance through the halls with Mary and the various household staff and spirits.

The Secret Garden is a challenging show musically, demanding much of the vocalists and orchestra. Under the direction of music director Michelle Dibona Treften, the actors and instrumentalists handle the difficult score well. While there were a few issues with microphones and pitch during the Thursday evening show, the skill of the orchestra and the beauty of the voices more than made up for it. The ensemble particularly shines during "The House Upon the Hill", with haunting harmonies and excellent diction.

Kirsten Weirich and Nate Hallman take on the roles of Rose Lennox and Captain Albert Lennox, Mary's parents, who appear as memories and spirits throughout the show. Weirich and Hallman give solid performances, with Hallman's interactions with Hadley Qualls as Mary and Weirich's interactions with Sarah Anne Hughes as Lily highlighting their ability to connect to the other characters on stage. Weirich has a lovely, crystal clear voice that balances well with Hallman's.

The main characters in the manor include the housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Mary Adams), Martha (Jessica Teter), Dickon (Stephen Luckie), Ben Weatherstaff (Jeff Gibelius), Dr. Neville Craven (Dave Lang), Colin Craven (Tanner Holtry), Mary Lennox (Hadley Qualls), Archibald Craven (Matt Robinson), and Lily (Sarah Anne Hughes). Mrs. Medlock and Martha are a study in contrasts, as Mrs. Medlock is unwaveringly strict and proper while Martha is optimistic and cheerful. Adams and Teter, who both have fantastic stage presence, are perfectly cast in these roles. Teter's performance of "Hold On" is one of the strongest and most inspiring of the production.

Dickon and Ben are two of the most fun characters in the story as they conspire to help Mary bring Lily's garden back to life. At the Thursday performance Luckie seemed a little stiff at first, but as he relaxed into the role, Dickon's playfulness came through, and his duet with Hadley Qualls on "Wick" was delightful. Gibelius is fantastic in his role as the gardener Ben, playing the part as a curmudgeon with a mischievous glint in his eye.

Tanner Holtry and Hadley Qualls are well-matched as the cousins Colin Craven and Mary Lennox. They both do a wonderful job portraying the emotional complexity of these children who have both experienced loss at a young age. Holtry's vocals on "Round-Shouldered Man" and "Lift Me Up" are lovely. Qualls is a delightfully talented young actress. Her interactions with the other characters feel authentic, and her strong, clear voice is a treat to listen to. She holds her own in the overlapping sections during "I Heard Someone Crying", which is not an easy feat. Audiences will find themselves empathizing with Mary as she tries to find her way in this new world.

Dave Lang, Matt Robinson, and Sarah Anne Hughes balance one another well as Neville Craven, Archibald Craven, and Lily. Their performance with Weirich's Rose in "Quartet" is one of the best of the evening. Hughes delivers soaring vocals as the ever-present spirit of Lily, giving the audience goosebumps with her performance of "How Could I Ever Know." Lang's pleasant, smooth, clear vocals and Robinson's full, strong tones make their rendition of "Lily's Eyes" a beautiful and emotional experience for the audience. Both actors are convincing in their roles as brothers who are both grieving the loss of Lily, and the audience journeys with them as their interactions with Mary begin to open their hearts and minds to a new future of possibilities.

Overall, this production of The Secret Garden, directed by Ashley Shade Byerts, is a lovely retelling of the classic tale. As Byerts states in the Note from the Director, this show marks the most ambitious and challenging production the Players on High at the Carlisle Theatre has undertaken. This reviewer certainly looks forward to their future endeavors. There are three more chances to see The Secret Garden. For tickets, visit®id=194&

From This Author - Andrea Stephenson

Andrea Stephenson’s love of music and theatre was nurtured by her parents. She started performing as a singer and actor in elementary school, and her passion for the performing arts grew throughout... (read more about this author)

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