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“The Secret Garden” is impressive at Albany’s Park Playhouse

“The Secret Garden” playing at Albany’s Washington Park is an impressive production. The stage is filled with gorgeous costumes which the director and choreographer use to create stunning visual images.

The singing, whether it be awesome solos, moving duets or harmonious ensemble pieces are a joy for the ear.

The sometimes heavy story, based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, moves as gracefully as does the movement of the actors.

What makes all these things even more impressive is “The Secret Garden” is performed by the advanced teenage students of Playhouse Stage Academy. Should you have negative preconceptions about young performers this production will change them forever.

It’s important to point out – both for the credit of the performers and an awareness of potential audiences,“The Secret Garden” is a complicated emotional musical about adult issues of grieving, living in the past and finding a future. It is not filled with tapdancing youngsters impressing you on energy alone.

This is a rather dark musical that is geared more to adults than young children. It’s a tribute to the cast and their teachers that these young actors can make theater both meaningful and entertaining.

Yes, there are several key roles appropriate for 12-year olds, and younger. But even they are character driven. Indeed, it is the actions, positive thinking and friendships of the three youngsters that rescue the adults.

Playing Mary Lennox, Sophie Geis is both spunky and endearing. Declan Forcier as the sickly Colin captures the young man’s joyous enthusiasm as he begins to heal by working in the garden. In a gender casting switch, Molly Kantrowitz plays Dickon, the youngster who unites the others. Kantrowitz is a terrific singer and brings a much needed burst of energy to every scene she is in.

The bulk of the exquisite singing is provided by the adult characters, especially Josh Hoyt as the distant, cold Uncle Archibald. Selma Fabregas as his deceased wife Lily, adds to the plaintive tone that dictates the mood of the musical.

Also worthy of note are Ava Papaleo as Rose, Lily’s sister and Kevin Begley as her husband who are Mary Lennox’s dead parents. Molly Kirby is a delight as Martha who adds a bustling sense of friendliness as the maid.

To be clear, this is not a perfect production. There are times the audience must just accept the age of the characters, and too often there is just the suggestion of a needed emotion rather than it being deeply signaled by the young performers.

My guess is to help young actors navigate the swings of mood and personality, director Chuck Kraus softened several characters. Mary Lennox is nowhere near the spoiled brat usually played at the start of the play, nor is the weak young Colin nearly as demandingly irritating as he is written.

Though Hoyt captures the moodiness of Archibald Craven, he doesn’t find the truly dark side of the man who runs away from his problems.

Nat Holbrook’s Dr. Neville Craven, Archie’s brother, who is overprotective of Colin’s health is neither a villain nor an incompetent. The young actor does well creating a character that exists in a vacuum.

These are unimportant flaws, as the work on stage is impressive. So, too, is the work that creates the look of the stage. Marc Christopher, who was so comical as Nostradamus in “Something Rotten,” designed the set which is both attractive, functional and mood setting.

Gina Kowalski’s costumes for the central characters are personality defining. However, her designs for the flowing white gowns of the ghostly female ensemble members are awesome. Ashley Simone Kirchner’s movement of the chorus elevates Kowalski’s work into art.

As is usual at a Park Playhouse production, the work of Brian Axford with a terrific band is always a plus, as is Brandon Jones’ musical direction.

There is only one reason to miss seeing “The Secret Garden” and it’s not price. Quality amphitheater seating is available free of charge.

The only thing that might stop you is time. The show runs 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Saturday is the production’s last performance. Make plans to see it. You will be impressed.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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