Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007 | There are only two problems with the Lamb’s Players Theatre’s musical production of “The Secret Garden”: the songs are often too long and the chorus’ transitional scenes can be a tad tedious.

Despite that, you’re in for a treat because the rest of the performance crackles with a creative, earnest and spooky intensity; fitting for the classic children’s tale.

Based on a book by Frances Hodgson Burnett and with music by Lucy Simon (Carly’s sister) and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, the musical “The Secret Garden” enjoyed a successful run on Broadway.

Set in the early 20th century, “Garden” tells the story of Mary Lennox, a British child living in India. When Mary is orphaned during a cholera outbreak, she is sent to England and to the manor house of her uncle Archibald Craven. Here, Mary unlocks the mystery of the ghosts haunting the house, her uncle’s withdrawn behavior and the door to a once-beautiful, now-forgotten garden.

Boasting an exceptional cast, “Garden” features a chorus of ghosts that serve as a Greek-chorus. With their elegant, entirely white Edwardian dress, they help move the story along, often appearing during quick prop changes and using illustrative flashbacks to Mary’s life in India. Among them: the characteristically good (and fun to watch) Lance Arthur Smith, and the luminous Bathsheba Wilson as Mary’s Ayah. However, some of the chorus’ interludes become tedious, as apparent restless children in the audience might attest.

True to her name, Mary (7th grader Allie Trimm) is quite contrary; spoiled, churlish and pouting, she gives attitude to the house staff who tolerate her. Though Trimm’s performance seemed forced at first, she relaxed quickly and conclusively portrayed Mary — from contrary to sympathetic — quite beautifully.

David S. Humphrey stunning performance as Archibald, Mary’s tortured uncle, depicted the broken-hearted man with compassion and mastery. Together, he and his rival and brother Neville (terrific Randall Dodge), perform a show-stopping duet.

With such a small stage-area, Lamb’s Players must be efficient with use of space and props. For this production, set-designer (and playing Mary’s ghostly father) Mike Buckley cleverly uses scrim panels to depict a maze of hallways in the house, placed atop stair-steps to give dimension. Mary, Archie and even ghosts navigate the steps without ever having to come face to face and adding to the suspense.

Young Austyn Myers brings tons of personality to his Colin, the son that Archie can’t bear to see and has hidden away. Myers’ Colin and Trimm’s Mary have great chemistry together; whether bickering or in gentle moments.

Resident players, consistently good with their roles include: Season Duffy as Mary’s sweet and sassy chambermaid, K.B. Mercer’s stately Mrs. Medlock; Doren Elias gets laughs as usual, this time as the gardener and Deborah Gilmour Smyth sings her heart out as the ethereal Lily. Jon Lorenz adds whimsy and pep as Mary’s friend Dickon, though his is one of the songs running a verse too long.

Director Robert Smyth allows the touches of darkness to thrive in this “Garden,” a story about an orphan, a haunted house, death and loneliness can’t all be flowers and sunshine. These moments: Mary’s freaky dollhouse becomes a far-away house on a hill; the depiction of the cholera outbreak in Mary’s household gave goose-bumps; all combine together to make “The Secret Garden” something worth exploring.

“The Secret Garden” plays at Lamb’s Players Theatre through March 11.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.