If a young girl hadn’t survived a cholera outbreak, a grieving father and son wouldn’t have been able to reconnect and find ultimate joy and peace within The Secret Garden, the 28th annual summer musical of the Epiphany Players Drama Ministry of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville.
Adapted in 1991 by librettist/lyricist Marsha Norman and composer Lucy Simon based on the 1911 novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden offers a family reunion through a dark lens circa 1906. Upon the death of her parents in Bombay, India, headstrong 11-year-old Mary Lennox is sent to Yorkshire, England to live with her emotionally detached uncle Archibald Craven, whose life has been shaken by the death of his wife Lily who died giving birth to their sickly son, Colin, who is often hidden from sight. As Mary becomes more inquisitive about her new dwellings in haunted Misselthwaite Manor, she discovers a garden beloved by Lily which begins a rejuvenation process surpassing expectations.
Beautifully staged by Megan Wean Sears and David Brush, skillfully keeping Lily at the communicative heart of the action as she interacts with those she left behind, this splendidly sung presentation features a large, doubled cast of nearly 70 actors. Lily Nevers and Liza Russ bring great spunk and clear focus to their sprightly portrayals of Mary. David Sievers and Michael Shannon are in wondrously resounding voice as Archibald. Eric Pettit and Chavin Medina, equally expressive and very touching in the Come to My Garden sequence, shine as Colin. John Benjamin and Brett Greenwood are properly stern and dismissive as Dr. Neville Craven, Archibald’s brother assigned to Colin’s care. Rachel Woeste and Margo Russ are delightful as Martha, specifically providing wonderfully lyric-driven renditions of Hold On that cut deep as Martha passionately encourages Mary to remain positive despite adversity. Jack Issler and Tommy Cole proudly proclaim Winter’s On The Wing with vim and verve as the playful Dickon, Martha’s brother. The operatic Megan Rehberg and Kara Miller, strikingly costumed by Kim Harvey and Lori Watamaniuk, give Lily profound presence. Kean Petrello (Captain Albert Lennox), Mia Bridgman and Laura Jacobs (Rose Lennox), Sandy Schwartzwalder and Sophia LiBrandi (Mrs. Medlock), John Morgan and Brady Kress (Ben Weatherstaff), Martha Armstrong-Benjamin and Leighanna Hornick (Mrs. Winthtop), Meredith Russ (Fakir), and Marisha Oswoski (Ayah) are also noteworthy.
In addition to Sears filling her choreography with distinct Indian influences for Russ and Oswoski and energetic spirit for the aptly titled Come Spirit, Come Charm, the excellent artistic components include D. Tristan Cupp’s three-tiered, marvelously detailed storybook scenic design, Matthew Benjamin’s outstanding lighting bridging the present and past in stunning fashion akin to Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, and music director Kandis Gibson’s firm orchestra. However, diction and sound problems were an occasional distraction.
In its heartwarming account of acceptance, loss, forgiveness, healing, and remembrance, The Secret Garden opens our eyes to the power of miracles and the vital necessity of family and friends.
The Secret Garden continues through July 22 at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 6430 Far Hills Ave., Centerville. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors (60 and over), $5 for children (5 and under), and $20 for front row seating. For tickets, call (937) 433-1449 ext. 105. For more information, visit www.epiphanydayton.org or e-mail drama @epiphanydayton.org.