Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
The Secret Garden
A modest hit on Broadway, this stage adaptation of the novel is not wholly successful. Burnett's captivating story is rendered ponderous by Marsha Norman's Tony-winning yet heavy-handed book and lyrics, and by the somewhat repetitious almost-sung-through score by Lucy Simon that ranges from bland to pleasant; neither book nor score manages to scale any emotional heights. Nor is there enough story to justify the nearly two and one-half hour running time; while the musical would benefit from some judicious cutting (beginning with the bizarre and unnecessary spell-casting number "Come Spirit, Come Charm"), this option is probably unavailable to amateur licensees.
Signature's production soars, however, in its beautifully rendered vocals. Albright brings her ethereal soprano to the ghost of Lily. As the woeful Archibald, Shanley has vocal technique in spades. Unfortunately, his character's reluctance to connect with Mary and Colinvisible reminders of his lost loveis mirrored by his difficulty establishing an emotional connection with the audience. Shanley rises to the occasion, however, in "How Could I Ever Know," his haunting duet with Albright.
Bringing much needed relief from the story's prevailing lugubriousness are Cherity Harchis as the feisty servant Martha and Jordan Mazzocato as the ebullient young gardener Dickon. As the brother-and-sister pair who gently nudge Mary toward rejuvenation, these sly performers light up the stage with traditional musical-comedy stylings. The multi-talented Mazzocato has the makings of a young Christian Borle. Harchis's Martha is Yorkshire's answer to the Divine Miss M; she combines electrifying stage presence and spot-on timing with terrific vocals, canny restraint, and possibly the best diction in southern Nevada. In an evening packed with quality vocals, her solo "Hold On" is the closest thing to a showstopper.
Among other noteworthy performers, Cody Sims is a fine actor and singer who subtly yet powerfully conveys Neville's moral ambiguity. Jonathan Tuala and Amanda Campos, both excellent singers, convey grace and serenity as the ghosts of the Indian servants who join forces with their living counterparts Martha and Dickon to guide Mary on her spiritual journey. Young Isabella Baker, playing Mary at the reviewed performance, acquits herself like a pro. The strong ensemble plays multiple roles as a ghostly choir.
The scenic design (by Frank Strebel, Stan Judd and Leigh Cunningham) combines attractive ivy and flower-covered stone walls with landscape projections and just enough windows, furnishings, and flying picture frames to suggest a grand estate; the only off-note occurs late in act two, with Archibald and Lily's eleventh-hour duetthe show's emotional climaxperformed against an inexplicably bare white scrim (a malfunctioning projection at this performance, perhaps?).
Director Leslie Fotheringham compensates for the show's length by maintaining a brisk pace, facilitated by miraculously swift and silent scene changes. Graceful and unfussy choreography by Teresa Isgriggs creates a ghostly atmosphere but keeps the story moving. Dennis Wright designed the sumptuous costumes. Erika Courtney's lighting design captures the mood, and the sound design by Steel Wallis and Noah Goddard ensures that even the youngest performers can be heard from the back of the house.
Sadly, in this city of entertainment, the show has no orchestra. While the recorded tracks are serviceable (and, thanks to musical director Shauna Oblad, the performers mesh flawlessly with the tracks), live music would give Simon's score a much-needed energy boost.
Promptly after curtain call, the cast repairs to the lobby for photos and conversationan added delight for stagestruck children of all ages.
The Secret Garden continues through November 21, 2015, at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center, 1771 Inner Circle Drive, Las Vegas. Performances are at 7:30 pm on November 4-7, 9-10, 12-14, and 17-21, with 2 pm matinees on November 7 and 14; the show is dark Nov. 8, 11, 15, and 16. Tickets ($30 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children 6-12 years) are available online at www.signatureproductions.net or by phone at 1-866-967-8167 (group discounts at 702-878-PLAY).