The Secret Garden: A Very Short Review

by Brenda W. Clough

SecretGarden You know that writers (except for Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin) are poor, right? If you want a lucrative career, it is better to join Goldman Sachs. So this is why I patronize community theater — because I can’t afford to go to the Kennedy Center all that often. Last month we went to see a favorite musical, The Secret Garden, put on by the NextStop Theater Company of Herndon, VA.

The charms of community theater are many. The space is nearly always small, because nobody can afford a big venue in the expensive DC suburbs. Theatricality must make up for the money that would buy elaborate sets, effects and costumes. In a major metropolitan area there are many, many more talented actors and singers than can ever appear on stage. This all makes for an intense and intimate experience that is often better than what the gigantic commercial theater or arena can offer. And since the productions are all local and all-volunteer, they always need help. I have sewed costumes for community theater in my day, and it is fun!

And The Secret Garden is based, not upon the book by Nancy Friday, but on the classic children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This also has many advantages. Almost everybody knows the story, and therefore the musical can afford to have flashbacks and other tricks that might otherwise be confusing. Children are nearly always a sure bet on Broadway (only dogs are safer), and the novel itself was in many ways groundbreaking — the idea that a child heroine could be not beautiful, nor good, nor even very nice, and still triumph, is entirely alien to Victorian and Edwardian literature.

But what carries the musical as a work is the score. Wow, what haunting and lovely songs! “Lily’s Eyes” is stellar, a nearly perfect book song. Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) and Lucy Simon (music) reworked the musical somewhat for a later production, but all the songs stayed, like gems reset. Because of its many strengths this musical is frequently staged. It is worth seeing.

The ebook version of my novel How Like a God is now available from Book View Cafe. And it is available now in an audio book edition which is read by Bronson Pinchot!

How Like a God, by Brenda W. CloughMy newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.

I also have stories in Book View Café’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies, including our latest, Beyond Grimm.

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The Secret Garden: A Very Short Review — 4 Comments

  1. I have the CD of the orchestration of the Secret Garden. I used it for years as music to warm up ballet classes. It flows like a gentle stream, as beautiful in the 1000th listening as the first.

  2. I have seen both versions of this musical 1.0 and 2.0. For the second version they cut and pasted, turning a linear work into one with more flashbacks — so that the play now takes place more in Mary’s mind. However, it is perfectly understandable and all the music stays, which is very important.

  3. I went to see this on Broadway with my niece when it was first out (one daughter being then non-existant, the other being to small for live theatre) and loved it. It’s a gorgeous show when well staged, and really reached in to the heart of the story. And oh, the music is lovely.

    • I think the only thing the musical adds that is not in the book is the idea that Dr. Neville Craven was gunning to get hold of Misselthwaite. It is perfectly clear to the adult reader of the novel that if the doctor can only see that little Colin dies then Neville will be the heir presumptive to the entire shebang. But this is never said aloud. It is the musical that gets Mary up there to say it out loud. It also adds the idea that Neville was in love with Lily, which makes for a grand duet but is rather silly as an idea. (Hello? They all live in Armpit, Yorkshire — within riding distance of each other. Why did he not pursue the girl himself? He is better looking than Archie.)