FRIDAY 5 (+1): THE SECRET GARDEN's Maya Riley and Holly Hill

FRIDAY 5 (+1): THE SECRET GARDEN's Maya Riley and Holly Hill

Two of Nashville's favorite young actresses - now pursuing their theatrical dreams away at college - show audiences what they've been doing this summer as the Marsha Norman-Lucy Simon musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden opens tonight at Towne Centre Theatre in Brentwood.

Maya Riley and Holly Hill take on roles in the lushly-scored musical, performing for hometown audiences who have wondered what they have been up to in college, showing off their talents in director Tim Larson's cast, offering a glimpse into their creative processes and their personal and professional growth in the theater.

Today, both young women share what it is about theater that has long intrigued them and prompted them to pursue their passion in college - Maya's at New York University and Holly is at The University of Hartford's Hartt School in Connecticut - and offer some reasons why you should be sure to see The Secret Garden.

The latest installment of Friday 5 (+1) awaits, gentle readers...

FRIDAY 5 (+1): THE SECRET GARDEN's Maya Riley and Holly HillMaya Riley

What was your first "live, onstage" taste of theater My first real taste of live theater, as a viewer, was when I went to see The Lion King tour at TPAC as a little girl. I became obsessed with it, naturally. And oddly enough the moment that I remember most clearly is when the cheetah slowly stalked across the stage at the beginning of "Circle of Life." As a performer, I made me theatrical debut at the age of 9 in Circle Players' The King and I.

What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I think one of the best ways to prepare for a show is to connect with your fellow cast members - whether that's doing a warm-up exercise together, singing scales, or just talking while you put on your makeup. In the spirit of collaboration, I like to share my pre-show moments with cast mates. After all, we're all in it together. (Not to mention, it takes a massive load off the pre-show nerves.)

What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? When I was in school this past spring, I was in a show called As It Is In Heaven. About a week and a half before the show opened, I found out that my Grandmother had passed away. It was very difficult for me, and still will be for some time. I really struggled to motivate myself to perform, but then I realized something. I realized that the performing gifts that I have - my singing, my acting - aren't just things I've cultivated myself, but things I've inherited. My GrandMother Loved music and singing. Knowing that helped me to understand that every performance I give has a bit of her in it. That realization really helped me get through.

What's your dream role? I would love to play Celie in The Color Purple at some point. Also, following in the footsteps of Viola Davis, I would like to play Mrs. Muller in Doubt, someday.

Who's your theatrical crush? Of course, I'm a huge Audra McDonald fan! I also love Danielle Brooks and Cynthia Erivo. I saw them in The Color Purple on Broadway and their performances took my breath away!

Why should people come see The Secret Garden? The Secret Garden is such a beautiful story about renewal, redemption, and hope. Especially in times like these it becomes easy to blame and fight and distance ourselves. The Secret Garden is a story that shows there's always hope to be had and good to come if you just give it a little chance to grow.

FRIDAY 5 (+1): THE SECRET GARDEN's Maya Riley and Holly HillHolly Hill

What was your first "live, onstage" taste of theater? My mother was really great about showing me the classical era movies when I was younger, i.e. The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma and I adored them. While the movies are stunning renditions there is nothing like seeing it live. The one memory that sticks out for a live, onstage experience was the revival tour of Cole Porter's Anything Goes at TPAC. I think it was one of the first professional productions I had seen and I was in awe of the tapping and the unity of the ensemble. I had been in shows as a hobby but that was one of the first times I had seen people make a career from doing live theatre and it was eye-opening. It's still one of my favorite musicals to this day because I have such a fond memory attached to it.

What is your favorite pre-show ritual? Stretching and breathing through my body so I can enter into another character's thoughts and body language. Then I'll do a short vocal warm up to prepare both speaking and singing and top it off with a cup of lemon and ginger grass tea.

What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? I was in the Royal Shakespeare Company's play adaption of Beauty in the Beast in high school and we took the show to Tennessee State Thespian Conference. Well, this show had probably over 100 light cues which were all preset and during the opening scene the light board wiped the cues and our Technical Director did all the lights from memory for the entire show and nobody even noticed.

What's your dream role? Maria in The Sound of Music

Who's your theatrical crush? I love Ben Fankhauser, however my girl-crush in theatre is Julie Andrews.

Why should people come see The Secret Garden? The score alone is sheer brilliance and it matches the classic feel of the novel that so many people love. The way that certain musical tags are layered throughout the show is absolutely lovely. The story is incredibly redemptive and heartfelt and I think a great experience for all who are willing to come and be enchanted.

About the show The musical theater version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden opens this Friday night at Brentwood's Towne Centre Theatre in a new production directed by First Night Star Award winner Tim Larson. The Secret Garden features a book by Marsha Norman, with music by Lucy Simon.

Larson, highly regarded in the Nashville area for taking large-scale Broadway musicals to smaller stages with mostly volunteer performers to create memorable theatre experiences for local audiences, says The Secret Garden is one of his favorite musicals.

"Since I saw this show in New York in 1991 I fell in love with it," Larson explains. "Even though it veers from the book a bit, it does a great job of capturing the Victorian children's story that is rooted in enduring symbols of growth, self-sufficiency and moral triumph that cuts across generations and has become a musical classic for all ages."

Set in the early 20th century, The Secret Garden tells the story of 11-year-old Mary Lenox (played by Faith Dengate), who is orphaned in India and returns to Yorkshire, England, to live with her embittered, reclusive uncle Archibald and his invalid son Colin. The estate's many wonders include a magic garden which beckons the children with compelling melodies and the "Dreamers," spirits from Mary's past who guide her through her new life, dramatizing The Secret Garden's compelling tale of forgiveness and renewal.

While there are several popular, long-running musicals about orphans (Annie and Oliver! are prime example), The Secret Garden adds its haunting story and ghostly elements to a lush score that demands strong vocal talent to be successful onstage.

"I think this is a great show to direct at Towne Centre as it will bring the audience right into Misselthwaite Manor, its haunted rooms, gardens and, finally, the Secret Garden," Larson suggests. "The musical score although quite complex is one of the best that I have heard."

Under the musical direction of John Ray, the Towne Centre cast includes a bevy of local talent rising to the show's musical challenges. Besides Dengate, the cast includes Katharine Boettcher (Lily), Mary Corby (Mrs. Medlock), NoaH Clark (Dr. Neville Craven), Maya Riley (Martha Sowerby), Kyle Pierce (Archibald Craven), Connor Richardson (Dickon Sowerby), Sam Holt (Colin Craven) and Brian Best (Ben Weatherstaff).

The cast also includes several younger performers between ages nine and 15,who will be more prominently featured throughout the performance - a change from some earlier productions of the show.

"I added youth "Dreamers" because I wanted to convey that people of all ages were part of Mary's past and may have lived at Misselethwaite Manor throughout the years," he says

Larson is a proponent of non-traditional casting in order to create diversity among the characters in many shows he directs, including The Secret Garden.

"We have a cast of 28 performers, ranging in age from nine-years-old and up," Larson says. "Many have vast experience in musical theatre, a few are new to the stage, but all we cast in this show have great talent and I am excited to work with them."

The Secret Garden premiered on Broadway in 1991 and ran for 709 performances. It won the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical; the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical.

Tickets to The Secret Garden may be purchased online at www.townecentretheatre.tix.com or by calling (615) 221-1174. Thursday, Friday and Saturday curtain is at 8 p.m., with Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain. Tickets are $16 for students, $18 for military and seniors 60 and over, and $20 for adults. Towne Centre Theatre is located at 136 Frierson Street in Brentwood.


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