The last Musical of the Month: The Secret Garden

Julia Stanski, Editor

Secret Garden was a trailblazer in more ways than one when it premiered in 1989, but it’s most notable simply for being heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Based on the wonderful book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, it follows 10-year-old orphan Mary Lennox as she unlocks the secrets of her uncle’s haunted past with the discovery of a hidden garden.  Written by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, it was the first show with an all-female writing team to be nominated for a Tony, and its lead actress Daisy Eagan won a Tony Award at age 11 (!!!)  The original cast also featured Mandy Patinkin as Archibald Craven and Rebecca Luker as the ghost of his wife Lily.

The whole score is absolutely gorgeous, but a highlight of the show is “Lily’s Eyes”, a tragic duet between Archibald and his brother respectively revealing the grief of loss and unrequited love. It’s known as one of the best male musical theatre duets ever written. Mary’s understated Act 2 opener, “The Girl I Mean to Be”, is strangely hopeful and endearing, without being irritating as so many songs for children are (see “Tomorrow” or basically anything from Annie). That’s one of this show’s strengths; in a very quaint and British way, it stays away from caricatures and clichés, and delivers a haunting, joyful and honest story of flawed and human characters.

Sadly, Secret Garden is rarely produced due to its hefty specifications: a male-heavy cast, an exceptionally talented 10-year-old, authentic British accents on everyone and a soprano who can sing Lily’s “Come to My Garden” up in the stratosphere. But a fantastic concert recording was made for the show’s 25th anniversary in February, featuring stars like Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo (seen in Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables), Sydney Lucas (Fun Home), Ben Platt (Book of Mormon and Pitch Perfect) and Daisy Eagan herself in an adult role. Watch some snippets from it here ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNvPZBy5gA ): I promise you’ll be glad you did. The Secret Garden is a perfect show for summer- an intensely sad and sweet look at healing, forgiveness and love with addictively beautiful music and irresistible characters.

 

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