BWW Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at The Encore Musical Theatre Company is a Powerful, Sophisticated Production

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BWW Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at The Encore Musical Theatre Company is a Powerful, Sophisticated Production

Marsha Norman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for 'Night Mother, took home Tony and Drama Desk Awards in 1991 for "Best Book of a Musical" for The Secret Garden. With music by Lucy Simon, The Secret Garden is based on the 1911 classic children's literature novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. And while it's tagged as "children's" literature, The Secret Garden is not your typical light-hearted, happy-go-lucky matinee outing for the kids.

Presented by The Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter, The Secret Garden comes on the heels of last month's sold-out run of Fun Home. ­And The Encore succeeds beautifully with putting on back-to-back sophisticated "children's" musicals with some pretty hefty themes. Ironically, both shows are more engaging adult fare, but have a child at the forefront (in this case, Jojo Engelbert dominates center stage both times in two incredibly challenging roles).

At the start of The Secret Garden, the audience is greeted with a Greek chorus of ghosts (who are listed in the program as Dreamers) recanting how a cholera epidemic in India wiped out most of the citizens including Rose and Albert Lennox (Taylor Towers and Dan Morrison). Their daughter, Mary (Jojo Engelbert), now an orphan, is sent to live with her only living relative, Uncle Archibald Craven (Jay Montgomery) in Yorkshire, England. Archibald is a hunchback who's bereft over the death of his wife, Lily (Sarah B. Stevens) who dies in childbirth.

So distraught and overcome with grief, Archibald keeps his son, Colin (Caden Martel), a bedridden infirmed child, hidden in a small room and cared for by his brother, Neville (David Moan). Neville had pined for his brother's wife, Lily, and resents Archibald. Mary discovers her cousin Colin and relies on the empathetic, loving caretakers and groundskeepers Ben (Mark Bernstein), Mary Rumman (Mrs. Medlock), Martha (Dawn Purcell) and Dickon (Tyler J. Messinger) to help rehabilitate Colin and unlock and revitalize the dormant, unkept Secret Garden that was Lily's pride and joy before she died 10 years ago.

So while the plot is far from uplifting on the surface, Encore's production of The Secret Garden is not to be missed for the musically gifted cast and visual production values. Directed and choreographed by Cami Glauser with musical direction by Tyler Driskall and R. MacKenzie Lewis, The Secret Garden is filled with riveting vocal powerhouses especially Montgomery, Stevens and Moan. Montgomery and Moan's duet, Lily's Eyes, is haunting and flawless.

Thank heavens for Messinger and Purcell. As brother and sister, this talented duo has it all and delivers with levity, comedic whimsy and genuine sweetness. Their nurturing relationships with Mary and Colin are believable and heartfelt. They're a perfect pair to combat the intensity of the script. As the bitter, sad and neglected son, Martel handles his role well. As the lead anti-heroine, Engelbert successfully unravels the many layers of her character and commands the stage.

The production team, including Jacqulin Stauder, Sharon Larkey Urick, Nicklas Casella, Anne Donovan, Meg Berg, Chris Goosman and Jenna Brand, have defined the many changing scenes by rotating life-size vintage picture frames with authentic period rooms and costumes. The secret garden itself is illusive, leaving the audience to imagine the endless possibilities.

What isn't endless is The Secret Garden's run. Performances continue through Dec. 22. And tickets to a live theatre production make the perfect holiday gift.

The Secret Garden is sponsored in part by the Benard L. Maas Foundation. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets for Friday or Saturday evening performances are $38 Adults, $36 Seniors, $34 for youth 17 and under, or for a group of 10 or more. Tickets for Saturday and Sunday matinees are $34 Adults, $32 Seniors, $30 for youth 17 and under, or for a group of 10 or more. Tickets for Thursday evening performances are $32 Adults, $30 Seniors, and $28 for youth 17 and under, or for a group of 10 or more. Student Rush tickets are available if seating is available for $15 one hour prior to performance, by walk up only with a valid student ID. To reserve tickets, go to www.theencoretheatre.org or call (734) 268-6200. The Encore Musical Theatre Company is located at 3126 Broad Street in Dexter, MI.

Photo by: Michele Anliker.

(left to right) Caden Martel, Jay Montgomery and Jojo Engelbert star in The Secret Garden at The Encore Theatre in Dexter.



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From This Author Julie Yolles