THE SECRET GARDEN – Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman; Music by Lucy Simon; Directed by Shelly Gaza; Music Direction by Katie Hughes; Choreography by Adria Maria.  Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace, Johnstown) through June 16.  Tickets available at 970-744-3747 or 

The music and lyrics from THE SECRET GARDEN by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon (as taught and conducted by Katie Hughes, Music Director) is absolutely lush and illustrates an uplifting story. A girl left orphaned by cholera thrust into a new strange unwelcoming world. Two brothers who loved the same woman who died in childbirth. A son isolated from his father fearful he had inherited a disability. All brought back to life by the love of the absent mother, the presence of a curious young girl, and the miracle of a magical garden. How could you not love that? 

Candlelight’s production delivers on telling the story and performing the music beautifully. While the young actors are double-cast, the duo I saw, Alianna Glorioso as Mary Lennox and Gus Gaza as the sickly Colin, were outstandingly strong performers. With precise diction, strong voices and commitment to their characters, the young people charmed and moved the story from dark to light with grace and ease.

The adults were ably represented as well with Patric Case as the broken-hearted Archibald and BDT alumni Scott Severtson as Neville, the two brothers. Their rendition of “Lily’s Eyes” with its mind-blowing octave drop in the middle of a verse easily moved the female half of the audience to tears. Amazing! The woman they are singing about – the absent Lily – was beautifully sung by Maryann Aurie who shares a lovely duet with her sister Rose (veteran Candlelight performer Sara Kowalski). 

The supporting performers are a mix of first-timers and long-timers including Chas Lederer as a delightful Ben, the gardener; Sarah Forman as Martha, the housekeeper and friend to the children, and Eric Heine and Hugh Butterfield playing members of the doomed India Company. Newcomers welcomed to the fold include Ariana Duran as Ayah, an Indian nurse; Jerod Mose as the Fakir, Jazz Mueller and Jennasea Pearce (both fresh from BDT) as the lively Dickon and the harsh Mrs. Winthrop; and Jason Rexx as Albert, Mary’s deceased father. 

There were lovely moments in the staging, such as the guardians watching over Mary as she moves into this new world and begins to make friends. Figures dressed in white behind a scrim that neither guided nor interfered – just watched hopefully. The camaraderie between the young Dickon, the older Ben and Martha, the housekeeper, seemed authentic and enjoyable. But there were also moments that disappointed. The healing ceremony for Colin seemed out of place and poorly illustrated through dance. An almost bizarre comical ritual in the midst of an English garden. The climatic duet between the deceased Lily and her grieving husband was beautifully sung but unimaginatively staged. This was not enough to spoil the production for the enthusiastic audience, and it shouldn’t deter any of you reading from seeing the production. Candlelight ordinarily sets the bar so high that sometimes it’s hard to meet their own standards. 

A WOW factor of 8.25!!  

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