by Jessica Graae

Casey Moore in THE SECRET GARDEN at Wilmington Drama League through June 26. (Photo credit: Kathleen Butler McDermott)

The Wilmington Drama League’s production of THE SECRET GARDEN, a musical based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel, is nicely done. Lucy Simon’s score is operatic in its difficulty and sophistication, and the cast handles it beautifully. The excellent orchestra is conducted from the keyboard by musical director Steven Weatherman. The ghostly worlds of a cholera-ravaged family and that of its survivors overlap and struggle to come to terms with each other. Shannon Reverdito O’Connell directs this intricate, bittersweet show.

The elegant costumes by Gail Wagner and Sue Sodomin evoke Victorian England and India. I found myself wishing that more could have been done with the lighting to help define and separate the spirits from the living onstage, though I appreciated how intertwined the characters are-both musically and dramatically.

Casey Moore as Mary Lennox, a child navigating her sometimes unfriendly and lonely surroundings, is a natural and gifted young actress and singer. The discovery of her aunt’s secret garden- and her desire to plant and grow something beautiful-helps heal the wounds and the suffering of her widowed uncle’s family. As her disabled cousin Colin, Zach Pennington is convincing and sympathetic, singing with a crystal clear, beautiful tone. Victoria Healy is entertaining and captivating as Martha, Mary’s maid and confidante. Healy brings the stage alive and provides levity.

Fakir (Adam Chen) gives us glimpses of Mary’s early childhood in India. Chen’s voice is beautiful and he sings this supporting role with conviction. Matthew Jewell plays Dickon with an earthy gusto. Mark Dixon sings the demanding role of Archibald Craven, Mary’s widowed uncle, from the heart. The music seems high for a Broadway tenor, yet Dixon makes it seem effortless. Brent Klusak plays Archibald’s jealous, scheming brother, Dr. Neville Craven. Klusak sings with a warm, rich tone. Their duet, “Lily’s Eyes” gives us insight into the brothers’ pain and longing for Archibald’s dead wife, Lily. Leslie Shapiro is lovely as Lily, and sings the haunting “How Could I Ever Know” with ease and clarity.

Though the musical can be dramatically weighty at times, it sparkles and entertains. The messages of healing and love prevail, making it a perfect family event. Be sure to catch this last show of the Drama League’s season!

Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman
Music by Lucy Simon
Directed by Shannon Reverdito O’Connell
June 17-26, 2011
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd
Wilmington, DE 19802
(302) 764-1172

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