Musicals at Richter

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The Secret Garden

Press Release:

Two `Gardens' bloom above gloom

Richter and Pawling mount musical productions of classic children's story

Not one, but two ``Secret Gardens'' have sprouted in our midst this summer. Musicals at Richter in Danbury and the Pawling Theatre in New York state are presenting concurrent productions of the musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's story.

Both productions have much to recommend; Richter rebounding nicely from an awkward ``Sweet Charity'' and Pawling offering its most polished musical effort to date.

Rosalynn Basford, left, plays Mary Lennox, with Tom Cochrane as Archibald Craven and Christopher Taggart as Colin, in ``The Secret Garden,'' playing through July 27 at Musicals at Richter in Danbury.

Most importantly, the musicianship in each is of a high level, with strong casts of singers. Both also boast professional musical backup that's a far cry from the ragged, small band that often is the norm.

That said, the book for the musical by Marsha Norman remains a murky business. There's far too much emphasis on the emotional traumas of the adults, casting an air of gloom over the proceedings that even the redemptive ending can barely lighten.

Burnett's tale follows a Dickensian formula for tales about displaced orphans, including a stern housekeeper and a brooding country setting.

Young Mary Lennox, living in India with her parents, awakes one morning to find everyone in her home dead of cholera. Returned to England to live with her widowed, melancholy Uncle Archibald in his large, ghost-ridden mansion, Mary is befriended by the maid Martha and Martha's brother Dickon, both Mary's age.

Investigating mysterious crying that echoes throughout the house, she finds her young cousin, Archibald's son, Colin, bedridden and convinced he is going to die.

Mary's discovery of a secret garden, once the pride and joy of Archibald's dead wife, Lily, but now bleak and overgrown, provides her with a project that ultimately restores health to Colin.

Jerry Maraia takes the role of Dickon and Shannon Sarna appears as Mary Lennox in Pawling Theatre's ``The Secret Garden,'' through July 20 at the Pawling High School Auditorium, Pawling, N.Y.

It's a sentimental tale that goes awry in Norman's interpretation, with an overdose of dour ghosts who weave in and out of the children's story. Her script does not clearly establish the motives of Archibald's brother, Neville, who also lives in the Yorkshire manor.

Neville _ who also loved Lily _ now tends to Colin, but may be responsible for the boy's fear of the outside world. Two Indian spirits, a fakir and an ayah who also pop in and out, make clumsy additions to the plot. Reappearing red handkerchiefs, meant to convey the passing of cholera from one person to another, are visually interesting but dramatically superfluous.

The musical would have better served the story's uplifting message about renewal if it had focused more on Mary, her young friends and the symbolism of the reborn ``Secret Garden.''

Instead, what we get for far too much of the evening is a clammy Victorian chamber opera more interested in Archibald, Lily (who appears as a ghost) and the ambivalent Neville. Marsha Norman also wrote the lyrics for Lucy Simon's mostly uninspired score.

Audiences who remember reading ``The Secret Garden'' in their childhood or seeing one of the several film versions may be let down by this musical version that puts melancholy above magic.

copyright © by The News-Times


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