Get ready for the secret garden to bloom again and charm modern audiences everywhere. Following the premiere of THE SECRET GARDEN in Virginia in 1989, the well-received show debuted in 1991 on Broadway, where it ran for 709 performances and won three Tony awards for best book of a musical, best scenic design, and best featured actress in a musical (Daisy Eagan, the 11-year-old star, remains the youngest female recipient to date). The show played all over the world, often with local and regional theaters.
It was not until 2018 that rumors began to emerge about a Broadway revival. But it was not until 2023 that the long-awaited revival of THE SECRET GARDEN opened at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. Based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1922 novel of the same name and reimagined for a new generation by the original creators, THE SECRET GARDEN features book and lyrics by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman, music by Grammy award winner Lucy Simon, choreography by director and Tony award winner Warren Carlyle, and musical direction by Rob Berman.
Set at the turn of the century, THE SECRET GARDEN tells the tale of 10-year-old, orphaned Mary Lennox (Emily Jewel Hoder), who is unceremoniously plucked from her home in India after a cholera epidemic kills her parents and sent to England to live with a reclusive uncle she has never met. The dark English country estate on the moors is surely haunted, at the very least by memories. Her uncle Archibald Craven (Derrick Davis) has been in mourning for years since his beloved wife and Mary’s aunt Lily (Sierra Boggess) died. After her death, Archy insisted that Lily’s walled garden by shut forever – and, over the years, it has become overgrown with weeds so that even the locked door has disappeared in the undergrowth. Given Archy’s lack of interest in running the estate – or even living his life – his manipulative brother Dr. Neville Craven (Aaron Lazar) has taken over.
Needless to say, the traumatized youngster hates the lonely, haunted estate – until she discovers the abandoned garden during her curious wanderings. With the support of kindly servant Martha (Julia Lester) and Martha’s wildling brother Dickon (John Michael Lyles), Mary decides that she must restore the patch of earth to its former glory. In the process, she will discover family secrets – and restore not only the garden, but also herself and others who surround her.
THE SECRET GARDEN is a magical place – and a magical production. Music surrounds the tale, and Boggess’ Lily and Davis’ Archibald exhibit voices which are eerily evocative of clandestine and conflicted emotions – while spirits roam among the living. Director Carlyle helms the production with attention to fantasy but also earthly compassion, and the talented cast keep the audience constantly involved in this charming fable. At one point, when the villain of the piece receives his come-uppance, the audience actually cheered. And let’s not forget about Emily Jewel Hoder’s’ Mary, who holds her own in a very talented ensemble.
Kudos are also in order for the creative production team, including scenic design by Jason Sherwood, costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, wigs and makeup by Victoria Tinsman, lighting by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan, and sound by Dan Moses Schreier. The live orchestra conducted by Dan Redfeld keeps the gentle music flowing throughout.
THE SECRET GARDEN is definitely suitable for the entire family. It is also enchanting, clever, and entertaining – a fantasy with a message. The audience clearly found the production delightful and absorbing, and it is high time that this captivating revival returned to the stage for all to enjoy.
THE SECRET GARDEN runs through March 26, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Ahmanson Theatre is located in the Music Center, 315 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $40 to $155. For information and reservations, call 213-972-4400 or go online.