Guest Blog: Director Rupert Hands On Musical THE SECRET GARDEN
Rupert Hands is directing over 300 youngsters, making their West End debut, in a special family Spring Version of Broadway musical 'The Secret Garden'. The show runs until 31 August at the Ambassadors Theatre, beginning previews next week.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this project, indeed one of our principal aims, was getting to work with young people, and giving them the chance to rehearse in professional conditions and to perform on the biggest stages in London.
The Secret Garden is amongst the most loved and celebrated stories of the past 100 years, and the version Lucy Simon and MarSha Norman have created is simply brilliant. The score is one of the most beautiful ever put on stage, and it was a huge hit on Broadway in 1991. It was one of the first musicals I ever came into contact with as a child and I loved it, so when the opportunity arose to direct it, I jumped at the chance.
The fact that we get to put over 300 young performers onto a West End stage is perfect for this family show, and is an investment in the future of the industry. I'm proud to be associated with a project that cares about bringing young people into theatres to see something they will connect with and also putting large numbers of them onto the stage itself.
The story, universal and timeless, is about a group of lost people, young and old, isolated by tragedy and loneliness, who find a family. It's about rejuvenation and overcoming loss through embracing those closest to us and the world around us.
The leads of Mary and Colin are 10 years old, so this is the perfect project to do with a young cast - indeed the original Mary, Daisy Eagan, won a Tony for it at age 11. The youthful energy the cast have brought into rehearsals has been fantastic.
We actually have eight different girls playing Mary, and many of the other leads have multiple actors alternating the roles. This is partly to give the opportunity to as many children as we can to have a chance in a leading role on a West End stage, but also a reflection of the talent we witnessed from the over 2,000 young people who auditioned for us. For the past few months, we've been creating the show and working on it tirelessly with various different teams of young performers.
Frances Hodgson Burnett's original book is a classic. It's a piece parents have read as children, taken with them through their lives and then introduced to their own children. It has powerful resonance for young and old and has been passed through generations. The fact that it is a musical version of this classic story makes it something wonderfully nostalgic but also totally fresh and new.
It has something for every audience, whether it's the original tale, the stunning score, the opportunity to introduce children to the story (or to theatre in general) - or even as a new experience for an audience with no background knowledge of the story at all.
It's been a pleasure to work on and I'm looking forward immensely to getting our cast in front of an audience. Their hard work and sheer ability is truly impressive; it deserves a platform.
Picture credit: Catherine Ashmore