Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Secret Garden - ACT of CT

The production of The Secret Garden at ACT of CT is the most fulfilling musical in their five year history.  The show is creatively imagined, the cast is marvelous, the score is beautifully sung, and Director Daniel C. Levine has ratched down the histrionics to present a show that garnered 10 Connecticut Critic Circle nominations.


Based on the 1911 novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the show follows young Mary Lennox (Charlotte Ewing), a plucky, but distraught ten-year old girl whose family succumbs to a cholera epidemic in India.  She is sent to live in a remote English countryside to reside with her dispirited uncle Archibald (Brian Golub).  At first, her interactions with the main occupants of the household - her uncle, his calculating brother, Dr. Neville Craven (Matt Faucher), and the reserved housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Jorie Janeway) - are chilly and difficult.  Soon, however, she befriends the manor’s maid, Martha (Laura Woyasz) and her brother, Dickon (DJ Plunkett).  They help her cope, primarily as she and Dickon set forth to resurrect the estate’s long-neglected English garden.  Through perseverance and sheer grit they succeed, which also has the unintended side effect of bringing the entire household back together with love and joyfulness.


The music by Lucy Simon and lyrics by Marsha Norman are full of impassioned highs and poignant lows.  They gorgeously and concisely convey the emotional feelings and motivations of the characters and help propel the story to its compassionate and satisfactory conclusion. 


The book by Ms. Norman skillfully synthesizes the essence of this classic tale of children’s literature.  The characters are well-developed and the plotting easy to follow, especially for the younger audiences the musical attracts. 


Director Daniel C. Levine adeptly blends into the show Camilla Tassi’s visually appealing video projections, Charlie Morrison’s distinct Lighting Design and David Goldstein’s simple, but highly effective Scenic Design.  Marisa Barnes’ Sound Design is appropriately less over-the-top than recent productions at the venue.  Leslie Bernstein’s elegant and abundant Costume Designs are a visual treat.


Mr. Levine moves the production forward without any unnecessary embellishments.  He handles the opening sequence with artistry and aplomb.  His incorporation of a ghostly Greek Chorus is effective and not distracting as they appear throughout the musical.  For a musical that is not known as a dance show, Nathan Peck's choreography adds a vibrancy that only further enhances the production.


The Secret Garden benefits greatly from a superb troupe of performers.  At the fore is Charlotte Ewing as Mary Lennox.  The young actress, who is finding her way in the world, has the requisite spunk and sparkle to make her portrayal both heartwarming and believable. 


Brian Golub is impressive as uncle Archibald, a tortured soul who eventually finds happiness and redemption.  The actor has a powerful voice and convincing manner that evokes sympathy and closeness from the audience.  Matt Faucher brings a studied coolness and guilefulness to the role of Dr. Neville Craven.  Katie Diamond is alluring as the ethereal spirit of Lily Craven.  Two of the featured performers - Laura Woyasz as Martha and DJ Plunkett as Dickon - provide solid comic performances that are buoyant and full of exhilaration.


The Secret Garden, playing at ACT of CT through June 11.  Click here for ticket information.

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