Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at ACT Of Connecticut

Don't miss this stunning production, running through 6/11

By: Jun. 07, 2023
Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at ACT Of Connecticut
Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at ACT Of Connecticut

ACT of Connecticut is presenting a stunning production of The Secret Garden, the 1991 musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 novel. With book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and glorious music by Lucy Simon, the piece is remarkably challenging. The main role must be a young girl; the sizeable cast must be terrific actors who can skillfully render the nearly sung-through score; and the numerous locations—both inside a seemingly haunted mansion and outdoors in the bracing Yorkshire air—must be completely believable.

ACT of Connecticut accomplishes all of this, and the show is one of the most beautiful musicals of this 2022-2023 season, as well as being one of the most well-chosen—for its story as well as its songs. The plot centers on ten-year-old Mary Lenox, brought up in India and largely neglected by her mother and father. When cholera claims her parents and decimates their ex-patriate community, Mary must move to the Yorkshire countryside to live with her only relative, her uncle, Archibald Craven. Mary finds that Uncle Archibald is almost never at home, and she struggles to adjust to this strange country and its ways. But “Mistress Mary, quite contrary” gradually changes for the better as she gets acquainted with her loving and buoyant maid, Martha, and Martha’s young brother, Dickon, who has a magical connection with all things wild. As Mary learns about the wonders of the outdoors, she also learns that her Aunt Lily died ten years ago and left behind a garden that grieving Uncle Archibald has ordered locked and abandoned. Might the garden, if brought back to life, be the key to the family’s healing?

Daniel C. Levine, ACT Artistic Director and director of The Secret Garden, has cast pitch-perfect actors, without exception. Mary is a tough role, as at the beginning of the show she must be sour, imperious, and unpleasant without alienating the audience, and then the actor must make her transformation believable. Charlotte Ewing plays Mary to perfection and has a strong and lovely voice. Katie Diamond, as Lily (whose ghost wanders the house and speaks to those within it) also has a beautiful voice and a poignant presence. Matt Faucher plays Dr. Neville Craven—brother to Archibald—with the requisite harshness and hurt, and Brian Golub is outstanding as Archibald. Golub finds all the sorrow in the character and the weakness, too, while at the same time compelling us to empathize with the character’s innate benevolence.

DJ Plunkett is a marvelous Dickon, confident, charming, and possessed of a wonderful voice. And Laura Woyasz, as Martha, nearly steals the show with her terrific energy and her renditon of the fabulous songs, “A Fine White Horse,” and, especially, “Hold On.”

The ensemble actors are all strong, but one does wish that Levine and Sound Designer Marisa J. Barnes would balance the volume, which is nearly always too loud and makes the lyrics difficult to understand. However, the rest of the design team all but make up for this, in particular Camilla Tassi’s Video Design and Charlie Morrison’s lighting. They, along with the other designers and especially David Goldstein (Scenic Design), Leslie Bernstein (Costume Design), and Kurt Alger (Wig Design) seamlessly transport us to early 1900’s Yorkshire, and create magic.

Bring your handkerchiefs—for both sadness and joy—and bring your friends and relatives of all ages: this production of The Secret Garden should be anything but a secret.

The Secret Garden continues at ACT of Connecticut, 36 Old Quarry Road in Ridgefield through June 11. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 475.215.5497 or visit:  

Photo Credit: Daniel Rader


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From This Author - Brooks Appelbaum

Brooks has been writing theater reviews since her undergraduate days, and her critical writings have appeared in The New Yorker, the New Haven Magazine, and elsewhere. She currently writes a... Brooks Appelbaum">(read more about this author)


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