Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Second Visit to the magical Garden: MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Present The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman
Music by Lucy Simon
Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Kelsey Peterson W '05

Stage Directors
Garry Zacheiss '00 and Ky Lowenhaupt

Music Director
Ian Garvie

Stage Manager
Kristyn Brophy

Technical Director
Garry Zacheiss

Dramaturg & Dialect Coach
Bridgette Hayes

Set Designers
Garry Zacheiss
Ethan Tyndall

Lighting Designers
Garry Zacheiss
Paul Quimby


Archibald Craven
Shawn Gelzleichter

Dr. Neville Craven
Rishi Basu

Mary Lennox
Abigail Dickson

Bridgette Hayes

Sam Lathrop

Mrs. Medlock
Jennifer Ryan

Ben Weatherstaff
Michael DeFillippi

Colin Craven
Alexandra Upton

Lily Shannon
Rose McAuliffe

Rose Lennox
Rachel Baum

Capt. Albert Lennox
Terry Tamm

Lauren Burke

Lt. Peter Wright
Sean Benak

Lt. Ian Shaw
Brad Amidon

Maj. Holmes
Robert Morrison

Claire Holmes
Kelsey Peterson

Maj. Shelley
Brett Popiel

Mrs. Shelley
Lorraine Fryer

Jenn Woodward

Branigan LaCount

Lorraine Fryer

Kelsey Peterson

Mrs. Winthrop
Lorraine Fryer

Children's Chorus
Ryan Burke
Andy Edelman
Sara Molano
Alexandra Upton

Theatre companies in and around Boston tend to do the same show as another company and I realized thats just the way it is. In the last several months, I have heard of multiple productions of Chicago, Spelling Bee, Rent and now The Secret Garden. These are wonderful shows and its always interesting and often rewarding to see them done differently.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing MIT's Gilbert and Sullivan put up The Secret Garden. This was the 2nd production I had seen and another chance to talk about a completely different production. The musical is based on the famed novel of the same name, telling the story of young Mary Lennox, orphaned in India after the cholera epidemic took her parents. She is sent to live with her reclusive uncle, Archibald Craven in Yorkshire, England. Living in such a new and seemingly empty house, young Mary finds solace in trying to bring back a once-thriving garden on the estate grounds. She soon also discovers her sickly cousin, Colin, and forms a unique bond with him. As this goes on, we see Archibald dealing with the loss of his wife, Lily, ten years later, struggling to live his life while falling deeper and deeper into depression. As the book focuses more the children, the musical looks at the story of the adults. We see Archibald's and Mary's struggle to come with grips of this new situation, the best they can, but soon discover that it takes a great deal to overcome everything and try to find a semblance of family to help them get through their losses. With the use of flashbacks and then seeing the present, we see more into the lives of each characters. Family is a glimmering hope in all this, and we hope all comes together in the end. The driving force bringing everything together is a garden that causes something more than each character expected in not only themselves but for their world around them.

As I mentioned before, the music itself is very unique and works well with the particular period. Its a great score and is used very well to heighten several emotional scenes and moments. The book is based off the novel, and it does again, take several liberties. The aspects of India from Mary's past comes in when its convenient to attempt to fuel the story. My only complaint about the show itself is the book, as it tries to add additional exposition to an already established story. India is shoe-horned and makes some of the story feel uneven.  It doesn't make it less of a tale, just another look into different perspectives. This worked sometimes, but not as a whole. Also, some scenes where the ghosts from the past and Cholera epidemic would appear on stage were confusing, as there was no real establishment of reality and dream.

The set of the show, designed and created by Garry Zacheiss and Ethan Tyndall is a beautiful world. Kresge Little Theatre at MIT presents many challenges, as the stage is a bit small for such a large scale show. However, they use it very well, creating different areas for Archibald's office, the garden area, and bedroom. Behind the bed, there were several doorways that were created, overlaid with see-thru curtains that were used as portals almost, for different characters to use to blur the lines of past and present. Almost like a curved balcony area, the area was effectively used to join both worlds. Each doorway was lighted different colors from time to time, which was the fine work of lighting design by again, Garry Zacheiss, who apparently does everything and does it well, and Paul Quimby. Not only do they have excellent eyes to blend such unique colors like purple and reds effectively, but they are not afraid to use gobos. Gobos are often terribly underused in staging but also can be dangerously tacky if overused. However, the lighting designers used them as they were intended to create a believable and engaging environment. With a strong understanding of design, much love and appreciation was put in to bring the audience in, making it simply captivating. It was very impressive. The set and lights complimented each other well.

As for the direction, I appreciated the spacing and the proper usage of the ensemble. Garry Zacheiss, strikes again it seems. During a particular moment, he was able to create a nearly startling moment when he paired them up during the cholera breakout. With the use of white handkerchiefs, each ensemble member almost seemed like wind-up toys, one by one, running out of time. It was a great use of stylized movement combined with the reality of death and fear. However in some moments, I felt he could've given more for some characters to do. The space, is again, limited, but the director should give more freedom to his actors. In some numbers, more movement could've been used, causing a contrast between the song itself and the actor singing it. A minor issue, considering the show came together fairly well. Zacheiss is clearly a Renaissance Man, who accepts the challenge of creating such a world and manages to do a pretty great job.

There were plenty of strong performances in this production. Shawn Gelzleichter is at ease in the role of Archibald Craven, a character with such a soft, yet conflicted demeanor. Gelzleichter brings more to the surface then a man in mourning. We see bits and pieces of a once, sweet and happy man, but time and sadness has hidden that part away. He plays the role extremely well, fighting the coldness that may consume him. As all his numbers are beautifully sung, its his number he sings to his son, Colin, "Race You To the Top of The Morning" that was the one that stood out. He carries the story of the song from beginning to end with utter sadness and beauty. Another performance that stands out is Bridgette Hayes, who plays Martha the maid. She full of spritely, no-nonsense pride, and brings a bit of color to previously dark intro to the show. She is having fun with the role and her song "If I Had A Fine White Horse", is a joy to see as she brings amazing energy, clearly having fun. Rishi Basu, playing Archibald's more practical brother, Dr. Neville Crane, has a commanding presence that is only broken down briefly from time to time, as we see he is only human as well. Basu looks like he belongs in that period indefinitely, and he creates a wonderful performance. It plays well, especially with his duet with Archibald, "Lily's Eyes" where see these two vocal powerhouses share the stage. They are believable brothers and are strong contrasts that work extremely well together. Shannon Rose McAuliffe plays Lily, Archibald's wife, simply beautifully. With a marvelous voice, we see her move in and out of the present and past, creating such tender moments with Archibald. McAuliffe's chemistry with Gelzleichter is so wonderful to see, and we see each actor giving so much. Their duets together blend so perfectly that we only can imagine how strong their love was before her passing. Mary, played by Abigail Dickson, gives a strong performance, and it is clear she is on her way to many other great roles in the future. She plays the role with a obvious, simple maturity beyond her years, but her overall character arc is a bit muddled, due to the script and not a reflection on her performance. Alexandra Upton, plays Archibald's son, Colin. She is comfortable playing the young boy and many of the scenes she shares with Dickinson are memorable as we really see a strong bond created between the two. As for the Ensemble, they were strong as a unit and worked well with each other. With swelling voices, they help us see more of this world, coming in and out, wonderfully establishing their individuality. Even though there were stronger singers on the female side, it did not take away from the performances. All in all, everyone in the show gave good performances, bringing a wonderful story to life. There was much love for the material and it showed. We see the characters find their journey and destination unexpectedly, discovering that despite everything, they never truly lose those in our hearts.

This production of The Secret Garden is filled with wonderment and possibility. Through the characters' past and present, we see so much that can be realized, at the most important moments of their lives. Its the fact that they know in their hearts that they cannot give up and must go through so much to discover the things that matter the most. With all the pieces of performance, design and music, MIT's Gilbert and Sullivan's production is full of heart and establishes that even at our saddest and darkest moments, something hidden can be found again.

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