Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Secret Garden
Great Lakes Theater

Also see David's review of A Comedy of Tenors

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett was required reading when I was a child. Now, years later, the Great Lakes Theater is offering a production of the musical version (book and lyrics by Marsha Norman; music by Lucy Simon) of the famous children's story. The stage production seems to battle with my memories of Burnett's story of Mary Lennox, Colin Craven, and the people and spirits who inhabit Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England.

Burnett created the story of Mary Lennox, whose parents died and left her to live with her uncle Archibald Craven. She travelled from India to Misselthwaite Manor, where she was assigned two rooms and the bit of attention from Martha, a servant girl.

Mary soon discovered her cousin Colin, tucked away in a nursery where he lived because he was too weak to walk. Mary gave him nutritious food, exercise, and something to think about besides his self-indulgent thoughts. Archibald Craven resents his son because he blames Colin for the death of Lily, Archibald's wife, who died soon after giving birth to Colin.

With Colin's recovery, Archibald, Colin, and Mary begin to form a small family and plan to rescue the secret garden, which had been the private garden of Archibald's wife.

In 1991, The Secret Garden was nominated for several Tony Awards and received three: Best Book, by Marsha Norman; Scenic Design, by Heidi Landesman; Best Actress, Daisy Eagan.

The basic story opens in the dark world of Misselthwaite Manor. Some of the servants indicate the manor is haunted with ghosts. In addition, several of the people who live there place themselves in a world that permits them to think only about the dead relatives. They are depressed. Certainly, no one expects Mary, a child, to brighten their lives. The dark set mirrors the dark world of the people who live there. They make no effort to rescue themselves from their horrible lives. Only in the last fourth of the show do the lights brighten and we see hope for the Craven family.

Stephen Mitchell Brown and Tom Ford arrest the audience with their superior duet, "Lily's Eyes." Brown played Jean Valjean in Les Misérables last year for the Great Lakes Theater. For that role he received a Cleveland Critics Award. Brown has a glorious voice and pulls out all of the emotional stops to make this a terrific performance. Tom Ford has been with Great Lakes Theater for ten seasons. Local audiences have grown to expect and to receive first-rate performances from him.

Giovanna A. Layne is 11 years old and carrying the leading role in The Secret Garden. She is a talented young lady who seems to understand the importance of being on stage.

Choreographer Gregory Daniels designed several big dance numbers. He is matched by the beautiful costumes designed by Charlotte M. Yetman. Together they have created beautiful pictures in movement and color for the audience to enjoy.

Victoria Bussert (director) brings the large cast and the instrumentalists together to form a unified production. The directing, acting, and singing are well performed.

Unfortunately, Bussert had to overcome the score, which isn't memorable or thought provoking. The story seems to drag because of the music. I expect to leave the theater after seeing a musical and be able at least to hum one of the melodies, but I found this music completely forgettable.

The Secret Garden runs through October 31, 2015, at the Hanna Theatre in Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave, Cleveland. It is paired with King Lear (October 2 - November 1) for the fall season of the Great Lakes Theater. Ticket Information: 216-241-6000 or

Book and Lyrics: Marsha Norman
Music: Lucy Simon
Based on the novel by: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Lily: Jillian Kates
Mary Lennox: Giovanna A. Layne
Mrs. Medlock: Laura Perrotta
Dr. Neville Craven: Tom Ford
Martha: Sara Masterson
Archibald Craven: Stephen Mitchell Brown
Ben Weatherstaff: Dougfred Miller
Dickon: Colton Ryan
Colin Craven: Warren Bodily
Mrs. Winthrop: Cassandra Bissell
Ensemble: Cassandra Bissell, Neil Brookshire, Gabriel Brown, Robin Cohen, Jonathan Dyrud, Peter Gosik, Mary Mondlock, Katie Proulx, Dustin Tucker
Fakir: Peter Gosik
Ayah: Katie Proulx
Albert Lennox: Neil Brookshire
Rose Lennox: Leah Jennings
Major Holmes: Dustin Tucker
Claire Holmes: Mary Mondlock
Lieutenant Wright: Jonathan Dyrud
Lieutenant Shaw: Gabriel Brown
Alice: Robyn Cohen
Orchestra Conductor/ Keyboard: Joel Mercier
Violin: Callista Koh
Cello: Heidi Albert
Piccolo / Flute: Kyra Kester
Oboe / English Horn: Cynthia Warren
Trumpet: Joe Miller
French Horn: Sean Yancer
Percussion: Andrew Pongracz
Director: Victoria Bussert
Choreographer: Gregory Daniels
Musical director: Joel Mercier
Scenic Designer: Jeff Hermann
Costume Designer: charlotte m. Yetman
Lighting Designer: Paul Miller
Sound Designer: David Gotwald

- David Ritchey

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