Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Secret Garden
The Manatee Players

Also see Bill's review of A Different Perspective

Steve Dawson and Kenn C. Rapczynski
Manatee Players is presenting The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) and Lucy Simon (music). This version was on Broadway in 1991; Daisy Eagan won the Best Featured Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of Mary, and the show won two other minor Tony Awards. This is the first time Manatee Players has presented the musical and I can understand why. Much of the focus is on the inner turmoil of the adults while Mary and Colin get much less stage time. The storytelling is not a smooth arc but there are some very strong musical moments, such as "Lily's Eyes," "Come to My Garden," "Wick" and "How Could I Ever Know." Because so much of the focus is on two troubled brothers and the ghost of one's deceased wife, this is a rather dark story, and only late in the second act does it lighten to become a great family show.

Manatee Players fields a very strong cast, the three leads taken by three of the strongest voices regularly appearing in local community theater: Kenn C. Rapczynski as Archibald Craven, Steve Dawson as his brother Neville, and Sarah Cassidy as Lily. Their singing makes some of the lesser moments in the score seem better than they are. The roles of Mary Lenox and her cousin Colin Craven have been double cast; I saw Samantha Crawford as Mary and Judah Woomert as Colin on opening night. (Emma Devine and Sam Howells appear in these roles at alternate performances.) Both are excellent, Ms. Crawford a few years older than the character's nine years, but because of that her singing, very strong in the role. Mr. Woomert's singing has grown even stronger than a year ago when he inhabited two leading roles for different community theaters.

Kaliska Wiley as Martha and Cole Kornell as her brother Dickon are both excellent singers. Rodd Dyer has too little to do as Ben Weatherstaff, but is always a delight to encounter. Cory Woomert and Seva Anthony as Fakir and Ayah, Indian servants who appear as Mary's protectors throughout the story, show great stage presence. Cory Woomert has an important vocal solo in the early scenes which he handles very well. Lots of other familiar names from Manatee Players productions can be found in the cast, such as Meg Newsome, Jack Harkleroad, John Andruzzi, Eliza Engle, and Phil Croome, all of whom can be counted on to capably handle the small roles in a large musical.

Unfortunately, Manatee Performing Arts Center continues to be plagued by acoustical problems, making dialogue very hard to understand. Lyrics are projected somewhat better, or is that because I am familiar with the songs from the original cast recording?

The Secret Garden is capably directed and choreographed by Artistic Director Rick Kerby and musical direction is by Rick Bogner. Bogner and his band of five, Christine Allen-Bruno, Teri Booth, Victor Mongillo, Tony Bruno, and Donn Foster, are all extremely capable but this musical has an almost operatic score that could be well served by a larger ensemble.

Ken Mooney has designed beautiful settings and projections to tell the story in, lit by Joseph P. Oshry. The costumes by Becky Evans have the right 19th century feel and are a major asset. Kristin Ribble keeps a large cast in order as Stage Manager.

There is much to enjoy in Manatee Players' version of The Secret Garden. How about pairing the two leading men in City of Angels in the not too distant future, Dawson as Stine, Rapczynski as Stone?

Manatee Players presentsThe Secret Garden at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through October 4, 2015, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941-748-0111,

Archibald Craven: Kenn C. Rapczynski
Dr. Neville Craven: Steve Dawson
Lily: Sarah Cassidy
Mary Lennox: Samantha Crawford, Emma Devine
Colin Craven: Sam Howells, Judah Woomert
Martha: Kaliska Wiley
Dickon: Cole Kornell
Ben Weatherstaff: Rodd Dyer
Captain Albert Lenox: Mark Netherly
Rose Lennox: Eliza engle
Fakir: Cory Woomert
Ayah: Seva Anthony
Mrs. Medlock: Meg Newsome
Major Holmes: Jack Harkleroad
Claire Holmes: Catherine Burke
Lt. Peter Wright: John Andruzzi
Lt. Ian Shaw: Jay Poppe
Major Shelley: Phil Croome
Mrs. Shelley: MariAnne Hernandez
Mrs. Winthrop: Ellen Kleinschmidt
Alice: Eliza Lipton
Jane: Sara Sutton
Dreamers Ensemble: John Andruzzi, Seva Anthony, Nancy Brining, Catherine Burke, Phil Croome, Rodd Dyer, Eliza Engle, Jack Harkleroad, Marianne Hernandez, Andrew Kent, Ellen Kleinschmidt, Amanda Lada, Eliza Lipton, Mark netherly, Jay Poppe, Joshua Roberson, Linda Roeming, Sara Sutton, Josh Van Dyke, Cory Woomert
House Staff: Amanda Lade, Joshua Roberson, Linda Roeming, Sara Sutton
Ballroom Dancers: Eliza Engle, Andrew Kent, Amanda Lade, Eliza Lipton, Mark Netherly, Josh Roberson, Sara Sutton, Josh Van Dyke

Conductor/Keyboard: Rick Bogner
2nd Keyboard: Christine Allen Bruno
reeds: Teri Booth
Trumpet: Victor Mongillo
Percussion: Tony Bruno/Donn Foster

Director/Choreographer: Rick Kerby
Musical Director: Rick Bogner
Scenery and Projection Design: Ken Mooney
Lighting Design: Joseph P. Oshry
Costume Design: Becky Evans
Production Stage Manager: Kristin Ribble

--William S. Oser

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