Monday, July 19, 2010

Theatrical Review: “The Secret Garden”

Theatrical Review: “The Secret Garden”
Book and Lyrics by: Marsha Norman
Music by: Lucy Simon
Directed by: Kyle Donahue
Theatrical Review by: Paul Adam Smeltz

The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA is currently presenting their production of the musical version of “The Secret Garden” written by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon. The play is based on the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett which was introduced as a serial in 1910 and later as a novel in 1911. Although it’s now the author’s most well know work, it wasn’t as popular as her earlier work at the time. It is now a classic in Children’s literature as it appeals to both children and adults alike.

The story evolves around Mary Lennox (as portrayed by Stephanie Clare) who is found in her family’s home in India after an outbreak of cholera kills her parents and everyone she knew. She is sent to live with her mother’s Brother-in-Law Archibald Craven (as portrayed by Patrick McLaughlin) in England and finds her transition to her new life difficult. This is until she meets a young lad named Dickson (as portrayed by Joseph Ambrosia) who reveals to her the ghostly nature of the manor, her cousin Collin Craven (as portrayed by Kevin Bergin) who is kept as an invalid by his Uncle (father’s brother) Dr. Neville Craven (as portrayed by Brian Bowman), and a gardener Ben Weather staff (portrayed by Ray Papay) who tells her about a secret garden once beloved by her uncle’s departed wife (her mother’s sister) Lily Craven (as portrayed by Sara Ferguson). With the help of a bird, Mary finds the key and the door to the garden. She enters discovering all its magical properties not only on her but on all who she brings into it.

From the moment one enters The Shawnee Playhouse to take a seat for the performance of “The Secret Garden,” its bare stage inspired the expectation that something interesting was going to be presented on this blank theatrical canvas. This expectation manifested itself in the very first moments of the production as a spirit was seen walking across the stage as if it was guiding the production and the cast in their performance. This guidance manifested itself in the production’s exquisite staging leading the audience on a magical journey not only through the English Estate but through the heart as well. The Shawnee Playhouse had presented many excellent productions this season, but if anyone was to say “The Secret Garden” was the best one presented this summer thus far, they would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagreed with them.

The musical included a large cast consisting of both speaking and non speaking roles. This cast included Andriana Stigliano as Martha, Tessa Slovis as Rose Lennox, Kaitie Kaiser as Young Lilly, Mike Miller as Young Archie, Megan Rucidlo as Mrs. Winthrop and Mrs. Shelley, Trevor James as Lieutenant Wright, Dante Garvin as Major Shelley, Edward Joseph as Lieutenant Shaw, and the role of Mrs. Medlock was played alternately by Pam Kelly (who performed in the production this reviewer saw) and Amy Jo Shaeffer. The ensemble cast included Kendra Domotor, Shannon Felletter, Ariel Hudak, Tiffany Matraxia, Oskana Picca, and Lydia Shank. The production was well cast and the acting was well done by all who were in the production.

However, it bears mentioning the casting of adult Stephanie Clare in the role of 10 year old Mary Lennox proved to be a wise one. It is often said an actor (especially a female one) can play an older character but not a younger one with any believability. Ms. Clare proves the adage doesn’t always ring true. Her physical stature in the production doesn’t reflect her statuesque talent, but it does enhance the suspension of disbelief she creates among the audience allowing them to see her as a troubled young child and entreats them to follow her on her journey through their secret gardens.

The Shawnee Playhouse production of “The Secret Garden” by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon was directed/Choreographed/Musical Director/Orchestrated by Kyle Donahue and Staged Managed by Byrdie Jacques. Scot Cleaveland served as the Production’s Scenic Designer and Technical Director as assisted by Stephen Sury along with Phillip Benefield, Emily Cioc, and Brandon Hanks who served as the production’s Technical Crew. Marshall Haskell was The Lighting Designer and Light Board Operator. Missy Benefield served the production as its costumer. The Shawnee Playhouse producers are Ginny and Charlie Kirkwood with Midge McClosky serving as the playhouse‘s Executive Director. The Box Office Manager is Mary Horn as assisted by Becky Haskell. Barbara Ross, Christina McManus, and Ariel Hudak serve as the Box Office Staff. Amy Cramer serves as The Shawnee Playhouse’s Publicist.

This production of “The Secret Garden” continues its run at The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA until August 29th. The current productions of “The Music Man” is also being performed at The Shawnee Playhouse until August 28th as is Ronald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka Junior” until August 28th, “I do! I do!“ until September 3rd, and “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers“ until September 5th. Those who enjoy the Passionate Art Lover level of membership in The Forwardian Arts Society are offered a $3.00 discount off the admission fee of The Shawnee Playhouse Productions (excluding Children Theatrical Productions and those presented by non Shawnee Production Companies). Please Explore The Shawnee Playhouse Website at or call 570-421-5093 for more information about their productions and to reserve your ticket.

Photograph provided by The Shawnee Playhouse.

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