Burg Review: Light and magic radiate musically from Theater Harrisburg’s “The Secret Garden”

Telling a classic story by author Frances Hodgson Burnett over a century old, Theater Harrisburg’s “The Secret Garden” brings the musical version to life, even if the majority of the characters are, shall we say, not alive.

Whether you’ve already seen the award-winning show on Broadway or one of the nine film or TV series adaptations, it’s worth revisiting the story to see Harrisburg Theater’s moving rendition. With lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, the evocative operatic scores perfectly set the somber mood of all things weird in post-Victorian England.

In 1906, we meet Mary Lennox (Charlotte Caples) on the worst day of her young life. Upon awakening from her excessive life in India, she learns that everyone in her household has died of cholera. She is then taken 6,000 miles away to live with her widowed and reclusive uncle Archibald Craven (Andrew Vinton) in the Gothic mansion of Misselthwaite.

Because the amount of grief in the house weighs as heavy as the fog on the nearby moors, the house and its inhabitants are haunted by spirits, or “The Dreamers” (Tony Barber, Rebecca Cole, Andrea Crawford, Francis Dy, TJ Fausnight, Wendy J. Faust, Jason Genise-Gdula, Aubrey Krepps, Darren Riddle). Having only servants for company, Mary lacks her uncle’s affections and is forbidden to enter the garden. This makes it the number one place for her. Location number two is a hidden room where she discovers a secret resident.

The eerie setting of Misselthwaite Manor becomes a character in its own right, establishing its gravity and mystery with its shimmering amber lighting and dark, monochromatic colors. The occasional lightning and howling winds further protect the house from young Mary bonding with it or feeling nurtured by it. The spring garden, also tinged with sadness, stands locked and overgrown. The setting juxtaposes well with the slightly more vivid melancholy memories that occasionally resurface, like a waltz in the garden with a lost love.

Musical director Mitchell Sensenig brings out the best in the talented cast, who seem to effortlessly find their own voice in each other’s harmonic ranges. The singers perform with brilliant passion, all adding to the haunting melodies they create. With rich songs resonating from the depths of pain, each singer strikes notes of loneliness that echo through the skin.

My favorite duos: powerful tenors Andrew Vinton and Sean Meara and penetrating mezzo-sopranos Beth Darowish and Aubrey Krepps. And when the two duos join forces for “Quartet,” their voices reverberate harmoniously for a tune so beautiful that the musical notes hang in the air with the fog.

“The Secret Garden” is director Winnona Piazza’s first production with Theater Harrisburg. With this musical, she promises audiences a tale that “will eventually pierce light and real magic”. It seems symbolic of the world’s long-awaited awakening after another kind of plague. It’s a message about “pain and loss, and shows how we can find grace and hope in the future”.

The Secret Garden Musical runs February 11-27 at the Whitaker Center, 222 Market St., Harrisburg. For more information on show times and tickets, as well as COVID-19 updates protocols, visit www.theatreharrisburg.com/2021-2022-shows/the-secret-garden.

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