JOURNAL INQUIRER Review
Opera House ‘Garden’ is a lyrical musical
By Kory Loucks
Published: Thursday, May 20, 2010 2:08 PM EDT
EAST WINDSOR — Tucked away in the little hamlet of Broad Brook is a bit of Broadway in the Opera House Players’ lyrical production of “The Secret Garden.”
While the supporting cast is important in any show, the success of this musical rests squarely on the small shoulders of the actress playing the lead role — a little girl named Mary Lennox.
A daunting burden for some, but not so for Hollis Long who plays 10-year-old Mary. Long, with an impressive resume for one so young, belts out her numbers with pizzazz and the supreme confidence of a little pro.
The show, written and with lyrics by Marsha Norman, is faithfully based on the beloved English novel “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Set in Victorian England and India during British rule, it follows the life of Mary, whose father and mother die suddenly during a cholera epidemic in India. She is sent back to England to live with her deceased Aunt Lily’s husband, her Uncle Archibald Craven.
Craven, played with heart by the excellent Carl Calhoun, is a hunchback who has lost all interest in life, and hands the day-to-day management of his estate to his bitter brother, Dr. Neville Craven, played by the stoic and stolid Keith Johnson.
Both Calhoun and Johnson have strong and melodic voices, as does Erica Romeo, who plays the ghost of Mary’s mother, Rose, and Melissa Dupont, who plays Lily.
In fact, the singing is the thing in this show, and everyone is impressive. There are an assortment of duets, trios, and quartets, along with the solo performances, and they are all topnotch.
The secret garden is a walled off garden that has been neglected since Rose died. It is up to Mary to bring it back to life, and make a choice between embracing life and the future, or wallowing in the past with the dreams of the dead.
Director Sharon FitzHenry makes sure her cast wastes no time between the numerous scenes, giving this show its zippy pace. The set, designed by FitzHenry and master carpenter George Fields, is okay, but feels cramped. It would be nice to have a real bed rather than a bench for Craven’s sickly son, Colin, played by Kenny Bell III, he of the angelic soprano voice.
The three-person orchestra led by musical director Bill Martin, along with husband and wife team Peter and Abby Thomson, is fantastic. They seem like many more than just three, and never overpower the vocalists.
The elegant costumes, designed by Moonyean Field and Solveig Pflueger, are detailed and pretty, and Mary’s dresses and that lovely pink overcoat are precious.
Dead people dominate the stage in this show, from Mary’s parents to her aunt and sundry others, but it is life that wins out in the end.
As Dickon the country lad, played by the fine Scott Gilbert, says of the secret garden, “a lot of this that looks is dead is just biding its time,” and “the strongest roses thrive on being neglected.”
Come to Broadway — I mean Broad Brook — and embrace life at the Opera House Players’ production of “The Secret Garden,” running through Sunday.