Theater Thursday: Lincoln Center’s Secret Garden Anniversary Concert Review

As a kid, I was exposed to a lot of musicals that I never actually got the chance to see. 1991’s The Secret Garden, based on the classic children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one that always stuck out in my mind. Since this year marks the original production’s 25th anniversary, Lincoln Center decided to produce a live concert rendition, and I was lucky enough to see it and make one of my childhood dreams come true.

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The Secret Garden is about a little girl living in 1911 named Mary Lennox, who has been raised in India since birth. We meet her upon the delivery of sad news, that she’s been orphaned due to a cholera outbreak. Mary is then sent to live with her Uncle Archibald – the widow of Mary’s Aunt Lily. Upon her arrival, Mary discovers the secrets within the cracks of her new home, including her late Aunt’s beloved garden. What history does it contain? Are the ghosts of the past still looming there? Mary is on a mission to discover the answers for herself.

The Secret Garden is one of those shows that catches you off-guard. Many could think that with the subject matter, the music and overall show could be a bit more of a basic, Disney-lite rendition of the children’s story. But the final production is anything but predictable. In fact, even with my knowledge of the score prior to seeing this new concert version, I had forgotten how utterly beautiful the music in this show is. The melodies are haunting, the lyrics are enchanting – it is everything that a musical should be. But when hearing the Lincoln Center version, this already brilliant material was elevated to a level I had never expected. This was due to not only the incredible cast, but to the decision to add a very large scale choir., which added the correct dash of intense emotion to Marsha Norman’s award winning work.

This concert also doubled as a reunion for many of its cast members. Daisy Eagan, the original Mary, returned in the role of Martha, while Barbara Rosenblat reprised her role as Mrs. Medlock. Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo played Lily and Archibald, respectfully, and this is the first time the two had worked together on stage since their acclaimed performance inThe Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary show. The two are always a match made in Broadway casting heaven, and play off each other very well, regardless of what characters they portray.

Individually, everyone in the cast had a moment to shine that really took my breath away. Boggess and Sydney Lucas (Mary) were the obvious stand-outs, with both of them giving incredible performances. It was a treat to hear Sierra sing songs that showcase her true talents as a soprano, while it is a continued pleasure to watch Lucas grow as an actress on stage.

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TV hottie Cheyenne Jackson also proved himself quite well in the role of Archibald’s brother, Neville. Though I knew he could sing, I had grown so used to hearing him only perform pop-like ballads. But Cheyenne handled the character with the exact amount of “cartoony bad guy attitude” and just a hint of darkness. Ben Platt (Book of Mormon) also channeled something that not too many have seen from his “wheel house” of acting skills, and made the always enchanting Dickon one shade closer to a Disney prince than prior versions had indicated. If anything needs to be recorded for all of time, Platt’s rendition of “Winter’s on the Wing” should be included on such a list.

If one were to pick a flaw in this production, though it is by far the smallest of details, it would be the ever so bizarre choices of the set dressing. Granted, this is a concert rendition, so having anything on the stage aside from microphones and music stands is really not necessary. But somehow, director Stafford Arima and the rest of the crew decided that hanging giant lightbulbs with random pieces of tattered fabric hanging from them was a brilliant visual idea. Unfortunately, this was the one true distracting aspect of this concert, and rather than using these items to the show’s advantage, they reminded me more of bad paper mache school projects I did in elementary school.

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Floating bulbs of fabric aside, The Secret Garden was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life, and as it was the first theater related thing I had attended in 2016, it was definitely the best way to start off my new year right. With the success of this run, hopefully a revival is in the works, which I know would please many friends of mine if it were to come true. Until then though, I’ll hold this small moment in time as close to my heart as possible, as it was everything my inner child could have asked for.

Do you have feelings about The Secret Garden, or perhaps another novel that’s been adapted to the stage? Share them below!

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One thought on “Theater Thursday: Lincoln Center’s Secret Garden Anniversary Concert Review

  1. I was lucky enough to catch the first touring production as a young theatre geek, and it remains a stand-out experience for me even these many years later. You’re right that the score has much more depth and pathos than you might expect going in, and the addition of the large choir sounds like a perfect idea for this show. So glad to hear it received such a fine treatment at Lincoln Center, and that it’s still casting its spell even now.

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