OGDEN — As a young lover of theatre, there are certain shows that forever remain with you. In 1991, The Secret Garden opened on Broadway with music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. My young theatrical heart had already been enamored by the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and was thrilled to know a musical existed. Many hours were spent in the years before youtube memorizing every moment of that cast album, so when Ogden Musical Theatre announced that their spring concert production would be The Secret Garden, directed by Jennifer Hughes, with a full orchestra directed by Michael Palumbo, I called up my friend that I forced to listen to the album every night of seventh grade and said, “You are coming along with me to this production.”
It is always risky to do shows as a concert production, because much of the joy of the theatre is in the staging. But if any show can pull it off, it is The Secret Garden, especially with a full orchestra, which is a sad rarity these days. I commend Ogden Musical Theatre for making live music a priority. The orchestra was magnificent from start to finish. Palumbo as conductor was a master at bringing the musicality to the hall.
As the cast poured in during the overture, I could tell that they were not going to hide behind their music stands or allow the concert nature of the evening to take away from the imagination and theatricality of the story. This was a thrill as the story has such beauty and tranquility to it. The story centers around young Mary Lennox, played by Lucy White, who is suddenly orphaned when her family dies of cholera and she is sent to live with her uncle Archibald, played by Nate Waite. Archibald has been mourning the loss of his wife Lily, played by Ashtyn Roskelley, and left his brother Dr. Neville Craven, played by Nicolas Balaich, in charge of the affairs of his house and his sickly child, Collin, played by Sam Cash.
White plays a fantastic Mary, a role that is difficult to portray well because she is slightly stubborn and difficult to empathize with. White has a strong and clear voice, which is necessary for the opener of act two, “The Girl I Mean to Be.” She also has a charming personality which works well when she stands up to Collin. Cash as Collin was endearing, and the two play off each other well as believable cousins that strike up an unlikely friendship when they have been starved for companionship in other forms.
Waite as Archibald was nothing short of stunning. From the first notes out of his mouth, I confess that I took in a small gasp. While visually he resembles a bit of a Keanu Reeves, if I were to close my eyes, I could almost believe I was listening to the 1991 cast album in my basement again. Waite’s vocals were so on point that even some of the songs that have not been my favorites before took on new life. “Race You to the Top of The Morning,” a song where he is reading to Collin, left me wishing he could read stories to me, when I struggle with insomnia, because of his animation. The contrast that Balaich brought as the jealous Dr. Craven was delicious, and the iconic “Lily’s Eyes” was the perfect duet.
Joey Waite as Dickon was an absolute gem. The role of Dickon is one that brings life and joy to the show, much like the song “Wick” sings of bringing life to the garden. Joey Waite’s melodic tones felt as if they could wake up any dead plant in the area. Roskelley as Lily was also a fantastic addition, and one that I was quite pleased with. It can be very difficult to find a vocalist that can successfully reach the high notes required of the role, but Roskelley had no issues and made the notes sound pleasant and enjoyable.
My favorite song from the show, in fact one of my favorite songs ever written, is “Hold On,” and Samantha Allen as Martha did not disappoint. She was able to convey just the spirit of understanding that one should have when teaching a child perseverance through challenges. My eyes were not dry when she had completed the task of delivering that message.
I wish I could point out each of the members of the cast individually. Often when seeing a concert production I wish for more sets, more props, more of just about everything, but I can say that this evening of entertainment was just enough. I left feeling uplifted, and that I could, indeed, “Hold On.”