THE SECRET GARDEN Review

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Mary Lennox (Caitlin Cohn) finds the key to her aunt’s long-abandoned garden. Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

Mary Lennox (Caitlin Cohn) finds the key to her aunt’s long-abandoned garden. Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

THE SECRET GARDEN presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through Oct. 3. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

In a word, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s THE SECRET GARDEN is stunning. The synergy of the various facets of this production creates a magical night of theater.

Giant, handwritten pages, hanging and stacked on the floor serve as the play area. I enjoyed the simplicity of the design by Nareelle Sissons. Hidden elements and pieces managed by the cast add to the surreal quality. I also enjoyed how any use of color popped off the stage. The lighting design by Matthew Richards smartly helps define location and mood. The costume design by Leon Wiebers easily evokes the period and I enjoyed the bold color choices.

Chambermaid Martha (Charlotte Maltby embraces Mary Lennox (Caitlin Cohn) with her vision of a brighter future. Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

Chambermaid Martha (Charlotte Maltby embraces Mary Lennox (Caitlin Cohn) with her vision of a brighter future. Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

Performances are strong across the entire cast. Caitlin Cohn is incredibly believable as 10-year old Mary Lennox. Kevin Earley’s emotionally-damaged Archibald Craven (Mary’s uncle) is mesmerizing. Gayton Scott is charismatic and fun as Martha, chambermaid and confidant to Mary.

Music director Sariva Goetz fills the theater with the rich score and vocally the numbers soar. “Lily’s Eyes” sung powerfully by Archibald and Neville (Adam Monley) nearly stopped the show opening night. The staging of “Come Spirit, Come Charm” was very powerful and effective. Brandi Burkhardt sings beautifully as Lily. Her duets, “Come to My Garden” with Collin (Anthony Frederickson) and “How Can I Ever Know” were personal favorites.

Archibald Craven (Kevin Earley) wanders in the night as his late wife Lily Craven (Brandi Burkhardt) and the Dreamers observe.  Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

Archibald Craven (Kevin Earley) wanders in the night as his late wife Lily Craven (Brandi Burkhardt) and the Dreamers observe. Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

Director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge evokes performances that are so emotionally true, the audience cannot help but be swept up in the story. The staging was imaginative and focused.

The one element that seems out of place, to me, is the use of the giant puppets very early in the production. It was unclear to me what they were supposed to represent. Additionally, since the show is so simply staged, the puppets seemed overly complicated and out of place.

Mary Lennox (Caitlin Cohnt) spars with Dr. Neville Craven (Adam Monley) as housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Gayton Scott) and headmistress Mrs. Winthrop (Carlyn Connolly) look on. Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

Mary Lennox (Caitlin Cohnt) spars with Dr. Neville Craven (Adam Monley) as housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Gayton Scott) and headmistress Mrs. Winthrop (Carlyn Connolly) look on. Photo by Mikkie Schaffner.

Haunting and ethereal, visually strong with emotional and heartfelt performances, Playhouse’s THE SECRET GARDEN is an enthralling experience.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “THE SECRET GARDEN Review

  1. Warren Liang

    I have a different and less enthusiastic take on Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park production. (My comparison points are the original broadway cast production and the Cincinnati stop of the US tour.)

    First the strong points. Then my reservations.

    The singing and orchestra perform at an overall very high level. Although there are only 7 or so musicians, the sound is very full. I especially enjoyed the singing of the actors who played Lily, Archibald, Neville, Mary, and Colin. I have not heard Colin better sung. The musical highlight was, and remains, “Lily’s Eyes.”

    My greatest reservations are with how Dickon, Martha, and Ben are portrayed. For me, the directorial choices are out of synch with these characters’ dramatic purpose. Dickon is a force of nature, “conjuring with that stick of his”, but as portrayed in this production he is little more than charming. Martha’s soaring anthem “Hold On” is staged with horseplay on the floor, hugs, and other distracting “action”, that detracts from the wise guidance that Martha instills in Mary. Ben’s accent was hard to pinpoint. At times it sounded Jamaican or other Caribbean, but wavered enough to be distracting.

    I agree with the above review’s comments about the puppets at the beginning of the show. They are distracting. Excessive action also detracts from Archibald’s “Where in the World.” Having women with parisols and hankies in hand, crisscrossing the stage, obscures his urgent search for a way out of his dilemma. His excessively unkempt appearance adds little.

    I wish “How Could I Ever Know” had been blocked with less physical clinging. It is less a passionate love song than a song of letting go and apology. The heartache of the song is better depicted in staging where Archibald and Lily almost touch or touch fleetingly.

    But, despite my reservations, I was moved by the beautiful music and lyrics, singing and playing. It can be more powerful had there been less busyness on stage.

    I would give it 4 stars out of 5.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Top Stories for September 2015 | Behind the Curtain Cincinnati

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