BWW Review: Denver Center's SECRET GARDEN is darkly enchanting
For a children's story, The Secret Garden evokes the kind of emotions that could make grown men sob. At least, that's what me and my fiancé did for a majority of Denver Center Theatre Company's current production.
The musical, originally on Broadway in 1991, earned Daisy Eagan a Tony Award, making her the youngest recipient to this day. With the book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, this Denver production is direction by Jenn Thompson. Prior to seeing this version, I wasn't too familiar with any incarnation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's popular children's story, which made following the plot a little difficult for me at first, specifically with how the family is connected. So if you're like me, I'd suggest at least glancing at a summary before attending.
The story follows 10-year-old Mary Lennox (a sassy yet charming Zoe Manarel), who is sent to live with her widowed uncle, Archibald Craven (Sean Palmer), in Yorkshire, England, after the death of her parents and several other caretakers due to a cholera outbreak in India. These dead characters serve as a ghostly chorus throughout the production, providing a bit of narrative texture. At her uncle's property, she's cared for by Martha (Emily Walton) and forms a bond with Martha's younger brother, Dickon (a spirited Liam Ford), who assists in grounds keeping.
She also stumbles upon Archibald's isolated crippled son, Colin (Sean Reda), whose mother, Lily (Carey ReBecca Brown). died during his birth. Colin is kept alone in his room, away from the world. Lily is Mary's mother's sister. Also living in the house is Archibald's brother, Dr. Neville Craven (Michael Halling), who cares for Colin. Mary learns of her Aunt Lily's secret garden through groundskeeper Ben (Adam Heller), and soon finds the key, which allows her to take Colin, who's never seen his mother's garden, let alone venture outside due to his ailment.
The show is a poignant look at a child's acceptance after she loses her entire world. As Mary finds a new family, her Uncle Archibald comes to terms with the loss of his wife and begins to accept his role as a father to Colin, whom he has unfavorably associated with Lily's death his entire life. The show is an emotional reminder that the ones we love and lose are never fully lost and remain with us as long as we'll allow them.
Visually stunning, a scenic design by Wilson Chin brings the set a rich elegance, complemented by terrific lighting moments by Philip S. Rosenberg. David Toser's costume designs runs a beautiful gamut from Victorian to Indian.
Across the board, the entire ensemble is strong, bringing each moment to the raw emotional space it needs. Songs like "Lily's Eyes," "Hold On" and "How Could I Ever Know" left me wrecked. But with all the death and sorrow, you leave hopeful, which made me realize why this timeless story is so beloved.
Denver Center Theatre Company's production of The Secret Garden plays the Stage Theatre through May 28. (Due to demand, an additional 6:30pm performance has been added on May 28.) Tickets are available at DenverCenter.org or by calling (303)893-4100.
Photo credit AdamsVisCom. Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk