Saturday, April 19, 2014

theatre review THE SECRET GARDEN, Arizona Broadway Theatre, April 11

Kaitlynn Kleinman, Madeline Alfano,
Matthew Charles Thompson and Christian Bader
Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) of The Secret Garden, running at Arizona Broadway Theatre through May 11th.

"The Arizona Broadway Theatre is currently presenting a fantastic production of the musical The Secret Garden. Based on the classic 1911 children's novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden has an outstanding score by Lucy Simon and a well-honed book and superb lyrics by Marsha Norman. ABT's production has phenomenal leads, lush creative elements, and impressive direction that effectively combine to tell the story of a young girl and the impact she has on a houseful of adults in early 1900s England.

The musical follows young Mary Lennox 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, whom she has never met, gives her little attention as he is still in mourning his wife Lily's passing ten years previous. Archibald keeps himself isolated and often makes trips to London and Paris to get away from the house and the memories of Lily that still haunt him. His son Colin, a cousin Mary didn't even know she had, is bedridden and under the care of Archibald's brother Dr. Neville, who also is in charge of the mansion and might just have other ulterior motives. Mary develops friendships with her maid Martha and Mary's teenage brother Dickon. Through Dickon and the groundskeeper Ben, Mary also hears about a secret hidden garden that belonged to her Aunt Lily. Mary makes it her mission to find the garden and bring it, her uncle and her cousin back to life.

Arizona Broadway Theatre has assembled a stellar cast, all with exceptional voices that allow Simon's score and Norman's lyrics to soar. Madeline Alfano brings a superb level of understanding to her portrayal of Mary. She is able to effortlessly capture the personal journey that her character makes from the sour faced, self-centered young girl to someone who feels joy in seeing the impact she has on others. Alfano isn't overly expressive, which is exactly the way Mary should be portrayed, but she does instill Mary with a keen sense of wonder and curiosity that allows us to better understand Mary's delight in discovering the hidden secrets of this large English mansion. She also has a lovely singing voice and a crisp and consistent English accent.

Matthew Charles Thompson is appropriately sullen and haunted as Archibald Craven. He brings a deep sense of anguish to the part along with a perfect sensitive connection and clear understanding of his songs. His rendition of "A Bit of Earth" is stirring with an emotional resonance. Kaitlynn Kleinman is exquisite as Lily, giving her a nice amount of charm and a loving nature which she instills in her connections with Archibald, Colin and Mary. Her singing is sublime with a voice that soars throughout her songs. The duet she has with Thompson, "How Could I Ever Know?," is sung in a simple way in front of the proscenium scrim with no added theatrical touches, yet is pure and direct with an impactful and passionate payoff.

Director Andy Meyers brings a sensitive touch to the show. He makes sure that the few comical moments land but never get in the way of the emotional story at the core of the musical. This is a show with a large ensemble cast, mostly made up of "ghosts" that haunt the central characters, and he continually and effectively uses them in creative ways. He also provides some nicely done choreographed stage movement in the numerous large ensemble songs. Creative aspects are impressive with a multi-level set design by Charles J. Trieloff II that easily serves as various rooms in the mansion as well as several flashback scenes in India. Kelsey Ettman's costume designs are impeccable and include some exquisitely beaded dresses—Lily and Rose's are both knock-outs—as well as period perfect outfits for the staff at the mansion and some nicely designed dresses for Mary. William C. Kirkham's lighting design is awash in a multitude of colors, from rich, dark tones of purples and reds for the interior mansion scenes, to warm browns for the outside scenes. He also uses shadows to create a moody atmosphere.

When done right, The Secret Garden blossoms into a superb musical, full of realistic characters and an excellent score with many stand out songs. The Arizona Broadway Theatre's production is a rich and effective emotional experience. With the perfect combination of a superb cast, impeccable direction and impressive creative elements, it is a must see. "

The Secret Garden runs through May 11, 2014, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (623) 776 – 8400.

Photo: MikeBPhoto / Arizona Broadway Theatre

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