Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel from 1911 has seen many musical revivals, winning three Tony Awards including “Best Book of a Musical.” This latest version by CTGLA is truly delightful. The story follows the journey of a ten-year-old orphan named Mary Lennox (Emily Jewel Hoder), who is sent to live with her Uncle Archibald (Derrick Davis), who is still grieving for his deceased wife, in a grand English estate “with something wrong inside it.” Mary’s loneliness is assuaged by the joyful young chambermaid, Martha (Julia Lester), her brother, Dickon (John-Michael Lyles) and the estate’s gardener, Ben (Mark Capri), and later transformed into a journey of discovery and renewal by the garden, locked after the death of her aunt, Lily (Sierra Boggess) who frequently haunts the stage.
Hoder as Mary delivers an impeccable performance, capturing the character’s precocity and depth with her lilting voice and physicality. Her rendition of “The Girl I Mean to Be” is one of the production’s highlights and is sure to leave the audience moved. However, the star of the show is Lester, who brings humor, heart, and a powerful voice to the role of Martha, the chambermaid. Her rendition of “Hold On” in Act 2 is particularly impressive.
The sets and sound design are nothing short of spectacular. Emmy Award-winner, Jason Sherwood’s scenic design manages to capture the essence of the Victorian era and the impression of the garden in both an impressionistic and highly detailed manner. Ken Billington and Brian Monaghan’s lighting design projects a haunting ambiance that effectively conveys the characters’ pain and suffering, while also creating a sunny brilliance when winter turns to spring, and they achieve catharsis. Dan Moses Schreier’s sound design enables a truly immersive and captivating soundscape, making the experience even more enchanting. The musical has been retooled to make it more palatable to current sensibilities, particularly when it comes to the colonial aspects of India. Rob Berman’s score makes a valiant effort to include more Indian, folk, and Celtic music, adding to the production’s overall charm.
In a storm-ridden Los Angeles, “The Secret Garden” provides a welcome escape for the whole family. The Fakir’s plea for “magic weather” and “hot days” to “drive away their illness” is a moment that the audience will appreciate with an ironic chuckle.
CTGLA’s The Secret Garden plays through March 26th at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets HERE.