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Secret Garden captures warmth, innocence

Secret Garden
Directed by Susan Schulman.
Starring Cammie Caccardell-Fossel, Amanda Naughton, and Kevin McGuire.
Colonial Theater.

By Kai-Teh Tao
Staff Reporter

Take a children's classic, add entrancing music, and before you know it you have an award-winning musical that delights the entire family. Such is The Secret Garden, based upon the Frances Hodgson Burnett tale of the same name. Certainly, The Secret Garden has been busy since it left the Broadway stage, with both a recent movie and touring production to its credit. The recent production at the cozy Colonial Theater captures the warmth and innocence of the story, giving the audience a clear glimpse of the power of faith.

Mary Lennox, played by the charming Cammie Maccardell-Fossel, is the heroine of the story. Orphaned by a cholera plague in India, she is brought to the care of her uncle, Archibald Craven, who is still mourning the death of his wife Lily. The house is quite luxurious with servants and enough rooms to house many guests, but something is missing. Instead of the warmth found in a happy household, this is a home marked by grief and death, where ghosts seem to dominate and lurk in the deep dark night.

Mary feels out of place in this gloomy environment. Initially, she responds by being rude to the household staff, trying to comfort herself by remembering her previous life in India. She is befriended by a down-to-earth Yorkshire maid, played by Amanda Naughton, who urges her to explore the house and continue living her life. Mary is then introduced to the household gardener and his assistant, the young Dickon, who tell her about a secret garden that has been locked and hidden away since her Aunt Lily's death. It is this search for the secret garden that ties the story line together, symbolically drawing from the seasonal themes of spring and winter to illustrate the continuous cycle of life and death.

Mary accidentally discovers the existence of Master Colin Craven, the son of her Uncle Archibald, who has been bedridden in a hidden room since his mother's death. Like Mary, Colin hides from his fears by being obnoxious to those around him, expecting everyone to do his bidding since, "I am going to die!" Mary comforts the young Colin and convinces him that the only thing stopping him from leading a normal life is himself. The two recognize that they need each other, providing the companionship necessary to survive in such a lonely environment.

The rebirth of Mary and Colin begins with the discovery of the secret garden. With the help of the gardener and Dickon, Mary magically nurtures the plants until the garden breathes the fresh air of life. When her Uncle Archibald finally returns to assume his responsibilities as head of the household, he is quite surprised and delighted by the welcome changes. Making up for lost time, he embraces Mary and Colin warmly, and prepares to begin life anew.

Veteran Broadway star Kevin McGuire, gives a convincing performance as the grieving Archibald Craven. Jacquelyn Piro and Roxann Parker also complement the cast well as the ghosts of Lily and Mary's mother, floating in the background to remind the audience of a previous life. Andy Bowser's demanding rantings as the spoiled Colin remind the audience of the brat inside all of us, while Cammie Maccardell-Fossel's compassionate Mary wins the audience with her good-natured optimism.

As always, Tony Award Winner Heidi Landesman's glorious sets contribute greatly to the contrasting themes of life and death. The centerpiece wheel, which spins around constantly, brings together living creatures with ghosts that continually test the boundary between imagination and reality.

Children will appreciate this musical because of their heroic roles in saving the family and restoring the natural warmth. Adults are reminded that it is the optimism of youth that solves all problems, before it is corrupted by society's overwhelming pessimism.