Monday, April 25, 2011

"Broadway Birthday!" - Happy 20th Birthday to The Secret Garden! Opened on Broadway April 25, 1991

Twenty years ago today the musical The Secret Garden opened on Broadway.  Based on the classic 1911 children's novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the musical has music by Lucy Simon with the book and lyrics by Marsha Norman.

The story of the musical follows young Mary Lennox, in the early 1900's, as she finds herself an orphan in India, due to a cholera epidemic.  She is quickly whisked away to her Uncle Archibald Craven's huge estate in the moors of England.   But her Uncle Archie, who she has never met, gives her little attention as he is still in mourning from his wife Lily's passing. Archie has a slight hump on his back and keeps himself isolated and often makes trips to London to get away from the memories of Lily that the house remind him of.   We soon learn that Lily passed away while giving birth to Mary's cousin Colin, a
cousin Mary didn't even know she had and who is bed ridden believing he has the same curse his father has and that he will grow up to be a hunchback as well.
Daisy Egan and Alison Fraser
Archie's brother Neville is Colin's Doctor and also has control of the mansion since Archie is unable to, and we soon discover that Neville in his iron fisted control over the mansion and of Colin might just have ulterior motives for his actions.

Mary develops friendships with her maid Martha and Mary's teenage brother Dickon.  Through Dickon and the groundskeeper Ben, Mary also hears about a garden that belonged to her Aunt Lily, but the garden hasn't been cared for since her Aunt's passing and is hidden away and locked up with the door to the garden completely grown over with ivy that no one can find it.  Mary makes it her mission to find the garden and with Dickon, Martha and Ben helping her, bring it, her Uncle and her cousin back to life.

While the main plot of the musical is the same as the novel, many elements have been added by Norman, especially the fleshed out relationship of Archie and Neville and the inclusion of Lily, to create tension, somewhat of a love triangle as well as an antagonist in Neville. 

Robert Westenberg and Mandy Patinkin
 The original Broadway cast included Daisy Egan as Mary, Mandy Patinkin as Archie, Robert Westenberg as Neville, Rebecca Luker as Lily, Alison Fraser as Martha and John Cameron Mitchell as Dickon.

Directed by Susan H. Schulmann, who in 1990 was Tony nominated for her direction of the Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, the creative team also included costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge and set design by Heidi Landesman.  The set included a large doll house that hung over the stage with specific rooms in the house illuminated to represent the setting for each scene. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the show won three Tony awards including Egan as Featured Actress, best set design for Landesman and best book of a musical for Norman.  Daisy Egan, who was 11, was the youngest female to win a Tony.

John Cameron Mitchell and Daisy Egan
The show had a fairly healthy run of 709 performances, closing on January 3, 1993.

This musical is in my Top Ten of Best Musicals.  I love how the characters are all realistic, how Mary truly learns from the people around her and how she wants to actually help other people out when at first she is only concerned about herself.  Egan was able to effortlessly capture the personal journey that her character makes and truly deserved her Tony win. 

The final scene where Archie sees Lily's Garden in full bloom for the first time since she died and sees Colin walking, gets me every time, and when he realizes that Mary was behind everything, I start to sob like a little girl.  Most of this scene is captured on the cast recording and I've actually gotten chocked up when listening to it.

But it is more than the story as to why this is in my Top 10, it is the score as well.   Lucy Simon is Carly Simon's older sister and The Secret Garden is her only Broadway credit, which when listening to the score I find shocking as the music so effectively captures the emotion of the story and has such breadth.   It features major ballads and duets, folk songs and chants, a waltz, huge ensemble pieces and quiet solos.   I read an interview with Alison Fraser when the show was running and she said that her second act scene with Egan, that includes the song "Hold On" where her character tells Mary that all isn't lost and that she just needs to hold on a little longer to see things through, was a very emotional one for the two of them, as Egan's mother had been diagnosed with cancer.   When I listen to that song I always think of what the two of them went through, as Egan's mother passed away in 1993 and ten years later, in 2003, Fraser also lost her husband to cancer.

Rebecca Luker with John Babcock who played "Colin"
Besides Fraser, the show also was one of the earliest Broadway credits for John Cameron Mitchell and Rebecca Luker.   Both have gone on to huge careers, Mitchell created and starred in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as well as directed and starred in the film of that musical, and he just directed the film of the Broadway play Rabbit Hole that got an Oscar nomination for Nicole Kidman.   Luker has gone on to many starring roles on Broadway including the revivals of Show Boat, Sound of Music and The Music Man as well as Mary Poppins and she has received three Tony nominations.  Luker and Fraser sing a duet of "Wick" from the show on Luker's "Leaving Home" cd.

I saw the show twice on Broadway, once with the original cast and a second time when Howard McGillin had taken over the part of "Archie."

I saw the first Non-Equity tour of the show that used a different set design and a somewhat smaller cast as well as the sumptuous production at the Paper Mill Playhouse that changed some of the lyrics.

One of the complaints about the original production was the use of the ensemble as the "ghosts' in Mary's life.  They were always present, lingering off to the sides and back of the stage and some audience members found it confusing.  In 2000, the Royal Shakespeare Company mounted a production at their Stratford upon Avon home.  With the participation of Simon and Norman, the musical was
revised with songs moved around as well as some cut to focus the story more on Mary.  Mary is now included in songs such as "Winters on the Wing," where in the
original production she wasn't.   The ensemble was now used more as the mansion's housekeeping staff and less as the ghosts.   While I enjoyed this production, which I saw at Stratford Upon Avon, before it transferred to London, and the way it attempted to clear some things up, I still find myself listening to the original cast recording and remembering the joy I felt when I saw it on Broadway twenty years ago.

Favorite songs from the show:

I Heard Someone Crying
Winter's on the Wing
A Bit of Earth
Lily's Eyes
Hold On
Where in the World?
How Could I Ever Know?

Amazon link for the cd The Secret Garden (1991 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the MP3 download of The Secret Garden - The Original Broadway Cast Album

Amazon link for the London Cast cd of The Secret Garden

Amazon link for the paperback of the novel The Secret Garden

Amazon link for Secret Garden: Vocal Selections

Amazon link for the dvd of the 1993 film The Secret Garden (Keepcase)

Original Broadway Cast - Tony Awards Medley Performance -

My favorite song from the show is "Lily's Eyes" - here are Anthony Warlow and Philip Quast singing the song- they starred as Archie and Neville in the Original Australian cast of the show and Quast later played Archie in the RSC Stratford Upon Avon and London casts -

Here are Broadway stars Jason Danieley and Will Chase singing the song -

and here is Patrick Wilson and George Psomas singing the song!

"Lily's Eyes" from a regional theatre production of the show

1 comment:

  1. I cannot believe we saw The Secret Garden 20 years ago! I am surprised since I was only 9 at the time, I remember every song ;)