Review by Danny Gaisin
Burnett’s 1911 children’s story is actually a subtle advocate for the principles of M.B. Eddy’s ‘Christian Science’ philosophy. Eddy respected the Bible but also believed that disease was strictly spiritual thus should be healed by prayer, not medicine. Plot-wise; Mary’s attitudinal change; Colin’s recovery; Dickon’s affinity for nature and Martha’s empathy are all manifestations of the C.S. dogma. Nevertheless, the storyline; especially presented musically; is still an optimistic charmer…for all ages. Meadowvale Music Theatre captures all the enchantment.
MMT’s director Danny Harvey gives SECRET GARDEN a full downtown-ish treatment engaging the audience with effective sets; costumes; orchestra and a talented cast. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the tale, it’s about a pre-teen spoiled only-daughter of wealthy Brits living in India circa 1910. The death of her parents during an epidemic, initiates her relocating to the Yorkshire mansion of her recently widowed uncle. The evolving relationship between her & her new guardian; his staff, and family are depicted as a quasi-religious paraphrase. We may not agree with the understated message but we unquestionably appreciate the happy ending. As theatre, this may be by a community organization… but it’s as good and as professional as dramaturgy gets.
The lead role; that of Mary Lennox is more than just pivotal; she must carry the play and Avery Kadish is a bull’s eye bit of casting. She acts, sings, dances and appears totally focused. The kind of performer any director necessitates, especially in a primary position. However, this particular play with its demanding duets, trios and even individual sextets sung together, plus an exactingly choreographed chorus insist on a strong support cast. Harvey has again shown his selective acumen. This critic found that fixation was detoured in response to the dynamic portrayal of Uncle Archibald by Max DeNardis. His rendering of the emotional ‘A bit of Earth’ evoked wetness in this writer’s eyes. One would think that such a highpoint would be an apogee, but the subsequent duet by DeNardis and Kirk DePalma playing his physician brother; kept the emotional momentum soaring.
There are two outstanding support depictions that are also impeccable. Amanda Dwyer’s Martha with her strong Yorkshire accent (that would set Henry Higgins’ ears afire) and her sincere & realistic empathy contribute strongly to the overall impression of the play. The other exceptional portrayal is by Mark Meisner. As Dickon who has the ‘green thumb’ both physically and philosophically; his solos and especially duets with Kadish demonstrate a maturity and talents that should take him to lead rolls in future presentations. The young man can do as much with a bent stave prop as Groucho did with his cigar; Dangerfield with his tie and Jack Benny’s famous violin.
The costumes, especially those worn by the ensemble… mono-coloured but still representative of each individual role are artistically creative. Alex & Carmen Aminimight as well change their surname to Armani™! The lighting, especially the cleverly blocked spots by UTM’s James Smagata is tremendously effective in redirecting audience fixation. Finally, the 13-piece orchestra under conductor Bob Hardinge is faultless, supportive and yet sufficiently subdued as to never overwhelm the performers on stage.
THE SECRET GARDEN will be at Meadowvale (Montevideo Dr) until March 2nd. **This is a potential repeat O.A.R. Top Tenner and thus, seriously recommended.