“The Secret Garden” is a musical for which many people have a soft spot in their hearts. Those people will be delighted with Hale Center Theater Orem’s faithful production of it, as it has all the melancholy storybook charm normally associated with the show.
People for whom this is their first “Garden” experience, however, may wonder: Why is there only one song (“Lily’s Eyes”) that is at all pretty or memorable? What’s with the weird Eastern mysticism that heals the little boy? Was his uncle keeping him sick on purpose? Why are there so many songs that don’t add to anything (“A Fine White Horse,” “The Girl I Mean to Be”)? What are we supposed to get out of all this, anyway?
Maybe new-comers won’t be so cynical. Nonetheless, “The Secret Garden” is a show that, even if performed well, like it is here, will leave some people in tears and other people entirely unmoved. The show either means something to you, or it doesn’t.
In colonial India a century ago, young Mary Lennox (a stalwart Kaylie Bell) is orphaned by a cholera epidemic that somehow skips her. She’s sent to England to live with her hermity Uncle Archibald (Chris Higbee), who mourns the death of his beloved Lily (Korianne Johnson), and mopes because he’s a hunchback, although his hunchbackedness does not manifest itself in the form of an actual hump, though he does limp a little.
Uncle Archie’s house is crawling with ghosts, including Lily and Mary’s mom (Anna Worthen), who provide narration and move the sets around for the show’s numerous scene changes. Mary is lonely until she stumbles across a room containing her cousin, Colin (Adam Steele), who has been bed-ridden all his life, under the care of Archibald’s brother Dr. Neville Craven (Rex Kocherhans), who fears Colin may develop the same sickness as his father and wind up with an imaginary hunch on his back, too.
The moment Mary and Colin meet is when the show begins to get interesting. Both young actors are adorable, but they’re talented actors, too. One enjoys watching them interact.
Meanwhile, Mary discovers Aunt Lily’s old garden, locked away and dying in the backyard. She helps the hired hands revive it, and before long it has healed Colin of his mysterious ailment, Archibald is happy again, and Neville (whose badness is only hinted at, in the suggestion he may have been in love with Lily, too) is banished.
There are great singing voices all around. Chris Higbee is strong and piercing as Archibald, his high voice punctuated with emotion as he mourns his situation. Hired help Dickon (Ben Tichy) has some fine moments, too, particularly in his “Winter’s on the Wing” song.
This show takes too long to settle; the first 20 minutes are constant chaos, as all the exposition is taken care of. On a big Broadway stage, with sets moving on and off mechanically, this works fine; on the Hale Center’s tiny theater-in-the-round, it means people are moving furniture onstage just to have someone say three lines, then moving it off again. It’s a distraction, though they do the best they can with the small space they’re given.
Performances are good, the singing is strong, director Syd Riggs keeps the pace up pretty well. It’s a fine production of a show that, like I said, either moves you or doesn’t. Fans will not be disappointed; non-fans will probably remain such.
I've made no secret of the fact that I don't like this show very much. Which is when I really earn my money as a theater critic (to the extent that it's possible to "earn" money as a theater critic): trying to give a fair review to a show that I'm predisposed to not liking. My feelings about the show itself aside, was this a good production of it? Yeah, it was. If you like "Secret Garden," you'll like this. What else can I say?