By Dee Jae Cox
The stage is a magical arena that transforms and transfixes and transports your imagination into new realms and worlds. As the lights came up on the Palm Canyon Theatre’s Production of Tony Award winning musical, “The Secret Garden” I was immediately pulled into a world where I was reminded of Emily Dickinson’s classic poem, “Hope is a thing with feathers”. This production of “The Secret Garden” is theatre at its best and exemplifies the reason why I fell in love with the stage.
With music by Lucy Simon (Sister of famed songwriter Carly) and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, “The Secret Garden” is a musical that is about love, loss, inspiration and hope. Simon and Norman created the musical based on the 1911 novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and infused their own wonderful additions to this timeless classic. The story is set in the early part of the twentieth Century. Young 11 year old Mary, brilliantly portrayed by Ava Tethal, is tragically orphaned and sent to live with an uncle whom she has never met. Ava is perfect in her role as Mary, carrying the lead role in this massive production with grace, poise and above all, mega talent. Few adults could claim such an accomplishment.
Mary’s uncle, Archibald Craven, performed by Chris Sands, who after many years, is still morning the loss of his wife, Lily, is reluctant to open his heart to the young girl, but his obvious good nature prevails. Lily, (Sylvia Tethal) Archibald’s deceased wife and young Mary’s mother’s sister, is seen in ghost form. Lily magically guides Mary and the story to its magical ending. Both Chris Sands, and Sylvia Tethal, are powerful in their performances as the lovers ripped apart by death and tragedy. Their duet, “How Could I Ever Know” was one of the most heartfelt moments I have seen on stage and I will confess a tear or two over their loss of one another.
A performance that stole the show for me was Alisha Bates, in her role as Martha, the simple young chambermaid, whose rendition of “If I Had a Fine White Horse” was fun and insightful and whimsical. Martha gave me hope for Mary’s future every time she entered the stage.
There must always be an antagonist for flavor and Mark Almy, as Dr. Neville Craven, does not disappoint. I wanted to boo him for his obvious and devious intentions. Mr. Almy’s depth of skill is remarkable. Nicholas Sloan as Martha’s brother, Dickon was a pure delight. I could not help but smile every time he spoke, or sang and my heart felt just a little more hopeful.
With over twenty members in the cast it is impossible to make note of all of the wonderful moments that each presented to the audience. The direction of a musical such as this would be a daunting task for any director, with a super-sized cast, many moving about the stage simultaneously, singing, dancing, inside the dull, grey mansion and outside into the magical garden. Hats off to Director William Layne, who did a remarkable job. He succeeded in bringing a slice of Broadway to Palm Springs.
This script is magical, the music transforming, the cast and the performances all seamlessly flow together and take the audience on a journey that reminds everyone what good theatre is all about.
The Secret Garden is a show that can and should be enjoyed by all ages: A timeless tale of a special place where magic, hope and love grow. Take everyone you know to see this show. Then go and get the soundtrack, you’ll want to savor this musical experience.
“The Secret Garden”, is being performed through March 29th, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.
For Reservations: Box Office: 760.323.5123 – www.palmcanyontheatre.org
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.
Photos by Paul Hayashi