The Secret Garden

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BYU’s production of “The Secret Garden” is full of style and is nice to look at, but it ultimately has little to make it effective as the touching musical it’s supposed to be. Just like a bouquet of flowers, “The Secret Garden” is real nice-lookin’, but that’s about all there is to it.

Based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s old novel, the story tells of young Mary Lennox (Kathryn Davis), who survives a cholera epidemic in India and soon finds herself shipped off to England to live with her hunchbacked uncle Archibald (Joshua Meyer), who wants nothing to do with her for reasons that are never fully nailed down.

Also living in the gloomy old mansion is Archibald’s brother Neville (David Raphael D’Agostini), a doctor who has been taking care of Archibald’s death-bed son Colin (Adam Steele) for 10 years. Only they keep Colin hidden away in a room — Neville seems to think that if anyone sees him, it will make him get worse. This, of course, turns out to be a load of hooey, which Mary proves as she sneaks in to see him, inspires him to get better, and also revitalizes the old garden — which is not just secret but magical, too — that used to belong to Colin’s dead mother Lily (Betsy Andrews Johnson).

Helping her is the servant girl Martha (Shannon Cook), her brother Dickon (James Mack), and the jolly round gardener Ben (Junior Case). These are cute characters, but their unusual folklore will not prepare you for the sheer weirdness of Mary’s incantations and dances, learned in India, that mysteriously heal Colin. (Sure, 10 years of medical care couldn’t do it. So why wouldn’t a few odd chants with choreography performed in a dead old garden do the trick?)

The problem here is not the strangeness of the plot (which, by the way, also has Colin’s and Mary’s various deceased relatives wandering around all the time, sort of communicating with the living and sort of not). No, the problem is in the characterization: There isn’t any. Mary starts out spoiled rotten and surly; this dissolves almost instantly and inexplicably. Archibald neglects his own son and doesn’t want to visit his wife’s garden, but we never really get inside of him to see why. It is hinted that Neville was in love with Lily, too, but the issue is not pursued (though I’m glad it’s brought up, since the song that mentions it, “Lily’s Eyes,” is the only truly memorable song in the entire show).

Some of these are script problems, but some of them could have been helped if the actors had stronger motives and objectives. Everyone is acting the emotions and not the characters. Instead of seeing “Mary” or “Archibald,” we see “sad” or “lonely.”

Rory Scanlon’s set is impressive and grand, with pieces almost in constant motion during the long exposition. And Janet L. Swenson’s costumes are historically accurate and beautiful.

D’Agostini and Meyer have fanstastic singing voices as brothers Neville and Archibald, and D’Agostini’s acting is better than most. Young Kathryn Davis, as Mary, acts with more skill, and certainly sings better, than most girls her age — but she, too, occasionally winds up melodramatic, particularly in her scenes with the equally over-the-top but golden-throated Steele.

In short, the show is superficially magnificent: great sets, costumes and lighting, and wonderful singing voices from the cast. But there’s nothing underneath it, making the overall experience unsatisfying.

I don't like the music in "The Secret Garden." Only one song has any kind of memorable tune, that being "Lily's Eyes." Everything else is forgettable -- indeed, when the lights came up at intermission, I couldn't remember any music from the first act.

It took all the restraint I had not to say in this review, "'The Secret Garden' should remain a secret." Believe me, I really wanted to.

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