Sunday, June 26, 2005

Secret Garden (Cain Park)

‘SECRET GARDEN’ fails to enchant at Cain Park

Most young girls have read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘THE SECRET GARDEN,’ which tells the story of Mary Lennox, a lonely little English girl who is sent to live with her Uncle Archibald after being orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India. Still grieving over the loss of his beloved wife Lily, who died ten years earlier during childbirth, and distraught over the physical condition of his bedridden son, Archibald casts a dark shadow over the manor and its inhabitants until Mary discovers a secret garden that had once belonged to Lily. By nursing this garden back to full bloom, Mary restores life to her grieving uncle and his son.

‘THE SECRET GARDEN’ was first published as a novel in 1910 and became an instant best selling children’s book. In 1937 a statue of its heroine was dedicated in New York’s Conservatory Gardens located in Central Park. The art piece has become a tourist attraction, not only because of the popularity of the book, but for some inexplicable reason Mary is practically naked.

In 1949 the book was turned into a movie starring Margaret O'Brien and Dean Stockwell. Later it was transposed into a musical with Marsha Norman serving as playwright and lyricist and is scored by Lucy Simon . The stage version, which won Norman a Tony Award for “Best Book of a Musical,” opened in 1991 and ran for 706 performances. At that year’s Tony Awards ceremony, Daisy Eagan became the youngest actress ever to win a Tony for her portrayal of Mary.

Cain Park’s production, though quite acceptable, misses its emotional mark due to the one-tone directing of Meryl Friedman. The staging lacks texturing. There are no emotional highs and lows so it lacks the necessary realistic emotional depth to carry the true meaning of the book.

The vocal elements of the play are excellent. The singing voices highlight the lush music. The acting of the cast, with few exceptions, is good.

The children, Sara Masterson (Mary) and Lincoln Sandham (Colin) are quite acceptable though neither has the singing or acting depth to expect them to be on their way to Broadway as has been the case recently with several local Cleveland kids. Patrick Janson sings and acts the role of the tortured Archibald effectively, though at times he goes over the edge in his display of angst. Sandra Simon, as the dead wife, has a big and pure voice, but is difficult to understand in the opening number. Part of this may have been due to the excessive volume of the orchestra.

Russ Borski’s representative sets don’t work well with the realistic story. When the dead garden comes to life there is little on stage to excite the audience, to show the marvelous effect that Mary has had on everything and everyone she touches.

As I’ve done in the past with shows that have been aimed at children, I took my grandsons Alex (9 1/2), Noah (8) and Ian (5) to see ‘THE SECRET GARDEN.’ Alex’s summary, “I liked the singing.” Noah, “I liked the scene with the thunder.” Ian didn’t contribute a summary as he fell asleep early in the second act. Those are not exactly ringing endorsements.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE SECRET GARDEN’ was advertised as a show appropriate for children. I think not. There just isn’t enough fantasy to hold their attention. This was evidenced when, at the performance I attended, many children and their parents left at intermission. This is not to say the production is bad, it’s just not all it could be.