‘The Secret Garden’ musical opens Friday at Shenandoah

Posted: February 20, 2014

The Winchester Star

Shenandoah Conservatory students — Kacey Willis (from left) of Dawsonville, Ga.; Rafael Martinez-Salgado of Bronx, N.Y.; Leah Wedge of Roanoke; and Sarah Beckwith of Lansing, N.Y. — rehearse a scene from the musical “The Secret Garden,” which will open on Friday. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Cast members Caleb Forsythe of Bath, N.Y., and Kacey Willis rehearse another scene from the musical.

Winchester — The residents of Misselthwaite manor house can’t stop holding onto the past.

Mary Lennox is a 10-year-old girl who lost everyone she knew and loved to a cholera epidemic in India and has been sent to live with her last remaining relatives in England.

Her uncle by marriage, Archibald Craven, is a hunchback still overcome with grief years after the loss of his wife Lily.

Mary’s cousin Colin has been confined to bed since his birth because of his father’s fear for his health.

Something must change, and it is about to with the uncovering of “The Secret Garden” in Shenandoah Conservatory’s upcoming production of the Broadway musical, director Carolyn Coulson said.

“There are so many heartbreaking moments in this show, but the end of the journey is one of such peace that you feel a bit of catharsis,” said Coulson, an assistant professor of theater.

The show will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on the Shenandoan University campus. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for students and active military members.

A cast of 24 will perform the musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel of the same name, Coulson said.

Set in 1906 in Yorkshire, the story follows not only the story of the living inhabitants of Misselthwaite but also the ghosts of the people they can’t seem to let go of, including Lily, Coulson said. “The ghosts are helping the living experience a sense of rebirth and healing.”

That parallels the story from the book with springtime on the way and the garden coming back to life, she said.

The catalyst for change is Mary, who is asking her uncle for “a bit of earth” to plant a garden. This sets off a chain of events that affects all of their lives, said Kacey Willis, the junior musical theater major portraying the little girl.

All Mary really wants is to be loved and taken care of by somebody, she said. “She enters this new life with new surroundings and experiences, and just through curiosity is able to uncover a family she didn’t think she could ever have.”

Befriending the little girl is Martha, a kind young chambermaid played by Kelsee Sweigard, a sophomore music theater major. Martha helps Mary to settle in and find the secret garden.

“It is a beautiful story, but it tugs on your heartstrings,” she said.

People will even sympathize with Archibald, who appears mean at first but is really in a great emotional pain, said Rafael Martinez-Salgado, the junior music theater major who plays him. He lost the one woman who loved him without regard for his appearance.

“He finds Lily and is amazed this woman looks past his physicality and sees his spirit. For him to lose that is almost the end of the world,” he said.

Despite the deep subjects the play deals with, it has a great deal of “childlike fun” and uplifting music, he said.

The show’s music is by Lucy Simon, the sister of singer Carly Simon, and book and lyrics are by Marsha Norman.

The music is a major part of the reason Coulson wanted the show for this season. She found it “astonishingly beautiful” and well suited to the students, many of whom were well suited to play the show’s children.

“It is nice to have young adults play children because they can handle the depth, and we have students who can really sing,” she said.

Thomas Albert is the music director and conductor, with an orchestra of conservatory students.

The period costumes were created by Jennifer Adams.

The set design is by Bill Pierson, but the final garden in bloom was a senior thesis project for student Peter Everly. Lighting designer James Morrison is also completing a senior thesis project.


A musical production of “The Secret Garden” will be performed by Shenandoah Conservatory students at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students and active military members.

For more information, contact 540-665-4569 or visit conservatoryperforms.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com