by Brenda W. Clough
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.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.