Bob Goepfert Reviews "The Secret Garden" At Capital Rep
ALBANY - “The Secret Garden” is probably not the show you would think of as Christmas entertainment. But as the Capital Repertory Theatre production illustrates, any musical about love, rebirth and reconciliation is ideal material for this holiday season.
Indeed, the character Archibald goes through a journey of self-discovery not unlike Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Instead of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Archibald discovers redemption through his son Colin, the gardener’s helper Dicken, and most of all, his orphaned niece Mary Lenox.
This happens as the three (with help of the gardener Ben) bring his deceased wife’s decayed garden back to full blossom. Through the rebirth of the garden he comes to appreciate the power of healing and of love.
The Cap Rep production, which continues through December 21, is a lovely presentation that is smartly conceived, well performed and intelligently directed.
Too, it uses a refreshing approach to the material as Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill uses her cast to function as musicians as well as actors. This permits some songs to support the narrative of the story and others to simply serve as moments of pure entertainment.
Mancinelli-Cahill and choreographer Freddy Ramirez use the movement of the actor-musicians to establish an ephemeral mood that helps the audience feel at ease with the many ghostly presences that weave throughout the play and who have the potential to confuse time, place and reality.
The approach is more successful in the first act as the segment establishes the characters and their relationships with each other. In act two, the pace slows considerably as the youngsters scheme to bring the secret garden back to life against the wishes of Archibald. Though the younger characters dominate the second act, it is doubtful that children of the same age with be entertained by the work.
The performances are strong throughout. Mary is performed with engaging spunk by the talented Brittany Ross. Young Aidan Fecko overcomes the one note shrillness of young Colin who is filled with self-pity, and Elliot Lane brings energy and power to the role of Dicken, whose intensity sometimes suggests he’s a Martin McDonagh character-in-waiting.
Cole Burden signals the repressed empathy of the moody Archibald, while Fred Rose makes an impression with his uncaring brother Neville, who is the only complex character in the show. Rose (who also contributes on the cello) shines in his solo number “Disappear” and Burden makes an impression by finding the emotions in “Where in the World,” and “A Bit of Earth.”
The two men are great in the duet “Lilly’s Eyes” a number which would be more touching if the director had not decided to have the song’s subject be center stage as if in a portrait. Some things are better left to the imagination – which includes a babbling robin, and human headboards.
The women are also strong. Both Mollie Vogt-Welch as Lilly and Ariana Papaleo as Rose sing lovely and each establish a haunting presence. As the chambermaid, Martha, Leena Rideout creates a comic but determined person who stops the second act with the song “Hold On.” Also adding much needed lightness is Kevin McGuire’s portrayal of the gardener Ben.
Scenic designer Ted Simpson has created an open performing space that provides an eerie environment ideal for the mood of the play. Suggestive props swiftly add specificity to scenes and, though occasionally overused, the idea of using human statues permits then to become integral characters in the show.
However, the effect that shows the garden’s transformation from neglect to rich abundance can only be described as modest. It lacks the emotional resonance needed at the moment. The same can be said of Mancinelli-Cahill’s staging as the play’s end seems rushed and lacking in emotion.
There are many fine moments in the production but total satisfaction is elusive as it becomes almost impossible to overcome the maudlin sentimentality of a story centered on sulky and emotionally wounded characters that takes too long to reach its predictable conclusion.
“The Secret Garden” is an excellent stage presentation of material that is, perhaps, better appreciated on the page.
“The Secret Garden” at Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany. Through December 21. Performances 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. 445-7469, capitalrep.com
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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