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“The Secret Garden” musical review

Oct 24, 2023 | 0 comments

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Oct 24, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


“The Secret Garden” musical performance is based on the 1911 book of “The Secret Garden” authored by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The music is by Lucy Simon and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Set in 20th century early years, the story beings by Mary Lennox, young girl of English origin who was born and raised in India, is orphaned by an outbreak of cholera at the age of eleven years. She is sent away from British Raj, India to England in Yorkshire to live with her strange relatives she has never met. In England, she meets her Uncle Archibald Craven and sickly cousin Collin. Her personality develops and blossoms as they bring new life to a garden neglected. Their estate has many wonders which include a magic garden beckoning children with Dreamer’s spirits and its haunting melodies from the past of Mary, which guides Mary through her new found life.

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This report is based on personal experience during a performance of “The secret Garden”. The report will include and not be limited to: commentary on the composers and works heard, critique of the performers performing techniques and instrumentation used. Moreover, aspects of music interpretation and music form and stylistic authenticity will be addressed. In this report, I want to confess that I am attached passionately to the successful stage musical of “The secret Garden” by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon. The duo translated the classic children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett into an opera context. Despite the fact that the opera itself still needs some little tinkering to be appealing to the younger audiences, I was quite taken overall with the impressive and stunning production.

The story telling is condensed and complemented beautifully by the fluid score, which I believe still needs some work in the melodic invention in the arena. The fluid score finally burst forth in the final scenes with a banquet of harmonies in the garden that is blooming. The colorful characters are introduced in a three-dimensional life by adaptation.

Martha– the spunky domestic whose down-to-earth cheerful approach is what Mary needs during her transition to the life in the mansion.
Lily-aunt to Mary and wife to Archibald Craven, who died in a tragic accident in her garden. She haunts Misselthwaite Manor’s walls metaphorically.
Mary Lennox-I think she is quite an explorer from the way she often found herself in trouble. She is also stubborn and fights for what she believes in.
Dr. Neville Craven-despite the fact that he is a brother to Archibald, he still love his brother’s wife even though she never loved him. Moreover, being responsible for taking care of Collin, he is unwilling to leave Misselthwaite.
Mrs. Medlock– I think she is cold as Misselthwaite Manor
Archibald Craven– the uncle to Mary and owner of Misselthwaite Manor. He is afraid of the future and is haunted by the past. I think he likes locking himself away mentally and physically.
Collin craven-he is a son of Archibald and has spent most of his life in bed because of heart condition. He throws temper tantrums and very stubborn whenever he want to get something
Ben Weatherstaff– he is the head gardener who is entrusted secretly to take care of the garden after the death of Lily
Dickon– he is the younger brother of Martha, and he looks after sick animals and plants within Misselthwaitte. I can describe him as a young man between the child imagination world and adult reasoning

Everything in the orchestra revolves around the performer acting as Mary. She effortlessly shifts from a pampered petulant child in India to a girl in England filled with curiosity that is insatiable about the enigmatic garden, and her deep compassion for the sickly son of Archibald, Colin. At only his younger age, the performer astonishes the audience with his powerful performance and ringing tenor. Ultimately, Mary has a spirit that is irrepressible that embodies the garden’s life.

From the musical performance of “The secret Garden”, it is clear that the composers were well organized, well prepared and creative. From the performance, it is evident that the composers showed their maturity and intelligence in analyzing and understanding different characters.

Directed by Ashley Butler, the story began on a spacious stage that is below a towering soaring set of the actors. This was an effective device to underscore how Mary must have felt when she found herself transported tragically into a dark old mansion that was filled with a lot of mysteries. However, Mary is up to the challenge, and she is meeting it on a set which in itself is a piece of living art. A backdrop of the garden scene alternates with the austere walls. The open space has doorways acting as portals to the other worlds, and it showed in a very simple, theatrical, evocative way travel, growth and journey. The director did not want much at the garden and the doorway, so he kept the props and set at a minimum. The garden scene is at first weedy and neglected and then, under the compassionate touch of Mary, taking on the hues of green and finally bursting into a bloom. In the process, it is also parallel to the effect of Mary on the household. The showcases of the set displays the considerable creative talent of Lizz Dorsey, who overlaid paint and canvas to make a beautifully shaded, ever-shifting, detailed, shimmering landscape, assisted and aided by Joel Coady’s lighting design. One visual touch that is delightful was that of a Robin that was animated and was a key to the story. That effect reinforces and underlines what I think of as an inarguable and touching message of the play. That is the life pulses also in the darkest circumstances, and it just wait for the awareness touch to bring it forth into healthfully. Butler wanted the story to be transformative and therefore expressed it through the characters, music, lighting, and set. For the lighting, it was important for Joel Coady that the Moor and India have a lot of mist and haze that resembles the aura of cholera in India and death and then traveling through English countryside barrenness. As the play progresses, the lighting got more colorful and vibrant

The performance used different performing techniques and instrumentations such as costumes. Despite the fact that the opening sequence of the performance begins in India at the home of Mary Lenox, the major parts of “The secret Garden” take place in Yorkshire, England in the early 1900’s. Yorkshire country in England is the largest and is cold often from rain and fog that is prevalent in the region in most months of a year. The costumes used in the play reflect the time period. The dresses of the women are paired with blouses and are nearly floor length. During that time, it was common for women shirts that are styled as for men with fitted vests and covered with jackets. Moreover, a hat and overcoat was also used when traveling. By examining the costumes of Mrs. Medlock, the housekeeper, I noticed that they were placed on top of other house servants. Therefore, it was important that amongst all the other house servants, she was to be the most presentable, classier but should not be too fancy to be mistaken to be the lady of the house.

Faithfully dogged to the mysticism and sentiment of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, this musical by Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman exploits every emotional opportunity. The most noted is the upbeat anthem in the dead Lily Craven, “Come to My Garden.” Director Ashley Butler coaxed fairly restrained, well-crafted performances from his cast and then makes ingenious, versatile set, most of his own. Given the set pieces of the gardens, it is blooming that is sudden is quite feat. The play began with the Indian music which influenced different world tone, and then introduced 1900 England’s periodic music. This helped in influencing the direction and movement of the play
“The Secret Garden” beautifully fits into the style and format of opera, and I enjoyed seeing it as such greatly. Despite the fact that the production proved that it was beautifully fit for the lovers of opera, I wondered whether the younger viewers of, the younger audience, dressed beautifully for an afternoon at the opera with their grandparents and parents, for this story of the children were given the best vehicle. The score which was conducted confidently by Susan McEwen Ray is not yet as magical as the full-bodied vocals and the trappings of some of the principals, posed some challenges in aura. Certainly supertitles helped, but I am worried about the children who may be not have been proficient at flickering visually from supertitles to stage. Fortunately, the young viewers left with smiles simply because they were in the company of adults who were eager to explain to them what was going on

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