Apr 27

Theatre Calgary’s The Secret Garden is grand but hollow

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

The cast of The Secret Garden. Photo by Trudie Lee.

For the final production of its 50th season, Theatre Calgary is putting on The Secret Garden, a musical with a book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon. The musical, based on the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is directed by Theatre Calgary’s new Artistic Director Stafford Arima. It is an immense production, with a multitude of voices on stage and an orchestra to support the voices. It’s all fairly grand, but the production misses the mark. The musical feels and sounds chaotic, as many characters sing at the same time and the harmonies seem slightly off. With so many characters on stage, the production fails to build connection to the main characters for most of the first half and ultimately rings hollow.

The musical stays true to the story of The Secret Garden. We meet 10-year-old Mary Lennox (Greer Hunt), a surviver of a cholera outbreak that killed her parents and their servants in India. She is sent to live with her uncle Archibald Craven (Eric Craig), whom she has never met, in his lonely mansion on a moor. Mary is a spoiled, aggressive child and doesn’t change much upon arrival. She is taken care of by Mrs. Medlock (Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan) and meets the maid Martha (Ma-Anne Dionisio) and gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Doug McKeag) and she begins to soften. Things are livened up by Martha’s son Dickon (Eric Wigston) and together they discover the garden that used to belong to Archibald’s late wife Lily (Laura Brandt). While venturing the house, Mary meets Colin Craven (Lucian-River Mirage Chauhan) who is believed to be a cripple, especially by Archibald’s brother Dr. Neville Craven (Brent Thiessen) who looks after the affairs while Archibald travels abroad. He maintains that Colin will die if he gets too much fresh air and is also determined to send Mary away to school.

While the story unfolds there are also ghosts who are part of the chorus and help to tell the story, referred to as ‘dreamers.’ Of note are Mary’s parents Albert Lennox (Matt Chittick) and Rose Lennox (Allison Lynch). There are seven other singers on stage who fill out the narrative and add their voices to the musical numbers.

It’s all on what seems like a simple set designed by Cory Sincennes but the final reveal of the stage in the garden is anything but simple. Sincennes’ costume design is fitting, having Lily look serene and Mary’s costuming be more elaborate as the play moves along.

Craig is great as Archibald and Dionisio has a very powerful voice. Wigston’s performance is light and airy and we could use more of his presence in the musical. Chauhan is flat on occasion, but breathes a bit of life into Colin.

Everyone has a remarkable voice, but the harmonies seemed a bit off. If anyone sang plot development songs at the same time, it was hard to hear what they were saying. Because the musical had so much material to go through, you feel Mary found the key to the secret garden rather quickly, and you didn’t really build a whole lot of connection to Dickon or Ben. Instead of being sorrowful, the dreamers came off as pedantic. It wasn’t until the second half that the musical really captured the theme of grief and loss in the duet between Lily and Archibald and you felt a kick of emotions.

Though The Secret Garden is filled with great melodies and amazing voices from the cast, this production suffers from trying to cram too much in. Director Stafford Arima wanted to aim for a grandiose production but lost the connection to the characters along the way.

Theatre Calgary’s The Secret Garden runs until May 19. More information is available online.

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