By Lindsey Kelstrom
Today I enjoyed a lovely afternoon of theatre with my family at The Old Barn Community Theatre’s production of The Secret Garden in Collinston. From the moment we entered this Old Barn converted into a theatre some 15 years ago, established alongside a river surrounded by trees, we felt at home. The quaint, intimate atmosphere sets the stage for a sense of community and family, which was perfect for this musical, as its themes center around family, the living and the lost.
The Secret Garden, originally a story familiar to many as a children’s novel, is about a young, feisty girl, named Mary Lennox (MarleeAnn Hull), who is orphaned after her parents pass away from a cholera epidemic while the family is stationed in India, during her father’s British military service. Mary is sent to live with her only surviving relative, her hunchbacked uncle, Archibald Craven (James Prasek). Archibald’s home is also riddled with tragedy, since the death of his wife, Lily (Abby Payne-Peterson) from an accident that resulted in early childbirth. Mary soon learns that the child, Collin (Kenden Hull) survived birth, but has remained crippled all his life. She also learns about a secret garden, locked away behind an overgrown stone wall to keep out Archibald’s harrowing, final memories of the place where Lily’s fatal accident occurred. Mary, with the help of servant friends Dickon (Michael Jensen), Martha (Emily Jensen), and Ben (Marc Jensen), find the key to enter the garden, and together they bring the garden back to life, while in the process restoring Collin’s health with fresh air and exercise, and drawing Archibald back home. This is accomplished with the help of Lily’s spirit and the spirits of Mary’s lost loved ones, and they find the beauty in the family he still has, just as the garden has been beautified once again.
The story alone is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming-but incorporate the beautiful music by Lucy Simon and lyrics by Marsha Norman, and this musical is truly a haunting masterpiece. Prasek and Payne-Peterson do not disappoint in their abilities to do the music justice. Prasek has a natural vibrato and strong tenor voice that help to convey the pain and grief his character is feeling. Both he and Richard Cox, who plays Archibald’s also grieving brother, deliver a pristine performance of “Lily’s Eyes” that gave me goosebumps. Their duet was seriously flawless. Payne-Peterson has an angelic voice of her own that seamlessly floats to those oh so very high soprano notes. I would have loved Payne-Peterson’s performance even more if she had a consistent British accent like the other leads in the show.
Speaking of accents, there are some noble attempts, but also some impeccable deliveries. E. Jensen’s Cockney accent as Martha was by far my favorite- so natural, and not at all overdone, as dialects of that kind are sometimes done. M. Jensen’s accent is uneven, but he makes up for it with his youth and enthusiasm as the optimistic, fun-loving character he plays.
M. Hull’s acting performance as Mary is impressive for one so young. She has faultless memorization of so many lines and hooray for a consistent and well-done British accent. She and K. Hull were able to hold my eight- and seven-year-olds’ attention each time they entered a scene. Both actors play their parts well as relatable children’s characters. It is obvious M. Hull and K. Hull must be related in real life as they have a familial chemistry and ease with one another that is often difficult to feign onstage.
Director Laura Lee Hull had quite the task when blocking the show, as the stage is in the center of the theatre with a surrounding audience in rising seats on all sides. All in all, I think the challenge is well managed and shows experience with the need for character movement and involvement of audience members at every turn. As the stage is set in the center of the theatre there are, of course, no large backdrops, which would block the view for audience members in certain sections. Therefore dressing the stage for each act required mostly props (Jay Greene, Kris Greene, Mandee Christensen) and lighting cues (Byron Okada) to emote the setting for each scene.
Producer Marvin Hull, who also doubles as musical director, has put together a production team that provides a cohesive interpretation of the show. The fact that backdrops and larger set pieces are absent does not detract from the story, as the plot and music of this production promote plenty of meaningful art for patrons to enjoy. The lighting cues at times were a little delayed, and at other times a bit confusing, but there was a beautifully painted stone garden wall at one of the stage entrances. Costumes by Tiffany Burnhope, Whitney Baker, Fraundsie Duncan, Janet Leavitt, Kris Greene and Laura Lee Hull are truly a group collaboration that creates consistency and accuracy in clothing appropriate for the time period, and that clearly mark the living from the dead characters. Choreographer Shannon Hansen also creates movement for the characters who are no longer living that well represents their being influences in spirit, rather than in body. I wish there had been more foliage and wow! in the garden for the final scene.
Overall, this performance is great family fun and entertainment in a friendly, intimate setting where I could take my children to learn beautiful life lessons about love and loss. We were able to see that never giving up on your family through meaningful songs such as “Come to My Garden” and “How Could I Ever Know” can be a delight and very important. The Old Barn’s cast and production staff definitely give a charming rendition of the musical The Secret Garden. I’m also always a sucker for a good venue where local talent is promoted and cultivated, and this production definitely falls under that category.
Old Barn Theatre Presents The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman
3605 Bigler Road, Collinston, UT 84312
March 2-24 7:30 PM, March 10, 17 2:30 PM
Contact: 435- 458-2276
The Old Barn Community Theatre Facebook Page
The Secret Garden Facebook Event