Thursday, November 30, 2017

Humphrey and Steinberg Shine in NVA “Secret Garden”

When I was in 6th grade our teacher would read a chapter from Frances Hoggson Burnett’s 1911 children’s book “The Secret Garden at end of week on Friday afternoons.  

To say that it captured my imagination would be an understatement: India, England an overindulged and spoiled thirteen year old girl, nannies, doctors, a brooding uncle, a secret garden.

Mary Lennox, an orphaned girl (then about my age) was sent off to a dark and dreary Manor in Yorkshire England after her own parents died in a cholera epidemic in British India.

There she meets her hermit uncle, Archibald Craven, along with Mrs. Medlock (Dagmar Krause Fields, excellent) Cravens housekeeper, a bevvy of maidservants both friendly and some no so. She is dressed over and fussed over even while acting out in her nastiest personality, rejecting everyone in her path. (“A House Upon A Hill”)
Cast of Secret Garden 
The manor hums with rumors and ghostly sightings/images. Mary’s recluse, hunchback uncle Archibald Craven has been in state of depression since his wife died in childbirth ten years earlier. He wants no part of anything or anyone manor related.

Maids and nannies scurry around trying hard not to be noticed. Her invalid cousin Colin, delegated and kept out of sight in his room, is declared ill with an unknown affliction and his doctor Archibald’s brother Neville Craven has his own secret motives for keeping the boy at bay and Mary Lennox out of sight.
Sarah Mahaffey, Samantha Vesco, Jacob Farry (center) Chris Bona and Devin Collins
Dickon the moor boy, who talks to the birds in the skies and charms the animals with his music, befriends Mary while the maidservant Martha Sowerby lets the cat out of the bag and tells Mary about a secret garden that is being taken care of by the gardener Ben Weatherstaff. It’s garden that once belonged to her now deceased aunt Lily.

The book and its intrigue were a perfect marriage for a musical. In 1991 the musical script with lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon premiered on Broadway and ran for 709 performances.

That same year it won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a musical and Best Scenic Design. It is currently on stage at New Village arts in Carlsbad through Dec. 24th under the direction of Rosina Reynolds. 

The musical, with over 30 numbers (a bit excessive) under the musical direction of conductor Tony Houck (oft times too loud for this venue) and his four musicians off stage bring the story into view with strong voices from Humphrey, Samantha Rose Steinberg, Kevane Le’Marr Coleman (Mary’s late father), Chris Bona as Dickon, Samantha Vesco as Martha (“If I Had a Fine Young Horse”) the maidservant and Nadia Guevara as Ayah, Mary’s nanny in India.
Manny Fernandes (background) David S. Humphrey
Guevara also choreographed the many dance numbers with the dreamers or deceased players circling those alive in sequences where the characters, in flashback, play out their otherwise lives. This device gives the audience a chance to glimpse into what brought us to the present and how their otherworldly influences can change the tone and outcome from dark and dreary to hopeful and optimistic.

Overall the cast does well with the overstuffed and repetitive musical numbers as the story brings us out of darkness into a full light when Mary and Colin secretly form a bond of trust and friendship allowing the boy (thirteen year old Jacob Farry is impressive) to gain strength and a chance at happiness away from the watchful and devious eyes of Dr. Craven (Manny Fernandes “Lily’ Eyes”).

Thirteen- year old Sara Mahaffey, making her acting debut and doing a fine job as the spoiled and petulant 13 year old (she is after all in the know) does not quite have the musical chops required as the lead character but does carry the story with an amazing change in personality.

 The rest of the cast, in fine voice overall, carry her along (It’s a Maze”, “Letter Song” “Opening Dream” Come Spirit, Come Charm” “Lily’s Eyes”.)
Sarah Mahaffy and Chris Bona
And charming it is as Chris Bona’s Dickon, who talks to the birds, takes over the spotlight every time he’s on stage. Manny Fernandes’ Dr. Craven is in good hands whether singing or just brooding about his life. 

Both Humphrey (a perfect role allowing him to expand his repertoire) and Steinberg are shining stars. Samantha Vesco is another bright star as Martha the maidservant who brings a smile in the room.

Finally when the door to the garden opens and Lily sings “Come To The Garden”, with Mary, Archibald, and Colin all together as a family, “Come To The Garden. Come Sweet Child”, I have to admit I welled up. 
Sarah Mahaffey David S/ Humphrey and Jacob FArry
The thirteen members cast, all dressed in high necked gowns of lacy white gauze, uniformed outfits for the men (Elisa Benzoni) singing and dancing on Christopher Scott Murillo’s minimalist set lit in shades of dark and darker (Curtis Miller) with hints of vines hanging from the walled off garden, can take credit along with Reynolds for the charm and ease with which this production sails.

The show is about two and a half hours long, and I loved every minute of it.

See you at the theatre.
Come To My Garden

Dates: Through Dec. 24th
Organization: New Village Arts
Phone: 760.433.3245
Production Type: Musical
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village
Ticket Prices: Start at $43.00

Photo: Daren Scott


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