"The Secret Garden" at the IU Musical Arts Center on Saturday received a well-deserved standing ovation. The ovation followed on the heels of two and a half hours of often spell binding musical and theatrical magic.
Lucy Simon’s music and Marsha Norman’s lyrics tell the story of Mary Lennox, a young orphaned girl’s growth from petulant selfishness to happiness through her restoration of a secret garden and the saving of the young invalid son of the garden’s owner. Throughout the show she is hovered over by the loving spirits of her parents and their friends and the spirit of the boy’s mother.
Jordan Goodmon as Mary Lennox was simply a wonder. Mary is on stage during most of the show and Goodmon, all the while singing beautifully with a fine accent and diction, carried her energetic part to perfection. For me, from her first appearance to her curtain call, Goodmon was Mary.
Erin Kelley was regal presence and sang beautifully as the spirit of the invalid boy’s departed mother, Lilly Craven. From Kelley’s opening notes on the lovely stage, I knew I was in for a wonderful evening. Jordon Bluth was masterful as the boy’s brokenhearted father, Archibald Craven. James Neff played Archibald’s jealous brother, Dr. Neville, with just the right amalgam of sincerity and duplicity. It was a strong duet between these men that drew the audience’s first spontaneous applause. Nathan Pratt was sweet voiced and lovely as the invalid, Colin Craven.
Mary Lennox’s allies in "The Secret Garden," the musical maid Martha, Jennifer Feinstein, with her nature savvy brother Dickon, Mathew Gailey, and Ben the gardener, David Sievers all did well. Mastering a dialect in speech is difficult enough and singing in it must present even more difficulty. Mathew Gailey was the undisputed master of the warm local dialect.
Jacob Sentgeorge and Rose Lennox, as the spirits of Mary’s parents, were frequently called on for key parts in the show.
Guest Stage Director and Choreographer Greg Ganakis has done a convincing creative job with both the naturalness of the living and the more staid demeanor of the spirits. Guest Conductor Dale Rieling handled rhythms, tempos and balances with a nod toward lushness, but not at the expense of detail. The lighting by Michael Schwandt was always working for the production.
C. David Higgins design for "The Secret Garden" sets was intricate and imaginative with plenty variety. The costumes were elegantly created and executed. Higgins got to enjoy his set in a special way as he played one of the speaking roles.
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This whole area takes collective pride in the accomplishments of IU’s sports teams; it can well take pride in this artistic success. The IU Opera Theatre’s production of Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s "The Secret Garden" will be performed Friday and Saturday at eight. It’s suitable for any adult who can be moved by musical magic and any child above the age of seven who can sit still long enough to be entranced. If what I’ve said whets your appetite, I’d suggest calling the box office now. I’m predicting a sold out house for both nights.