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REVIEW: Magic grows in Giving Tree Theater's 'Secret Garden'

RICHIE AKERS

The children in “The Secret Garden” help conjure up the magic of this beautiful musical, onstage through July 1 at Giving Tree Theater in Marion. They are (from left) Emma Gostonczik as Martha, Sam Shannon as Colin, Mic Evans as Dickon, and Ava Macek as Mary. 
RICHIE AKERS The children in “The Secret Garden” help conjure up the magic of this beautiful musical, onstage through July 1 at Giving Tree Theater in Marion. They are (from left) Emma Gostonczik as Martha, Sam Shannon as Colin, Mic Evans as Dickon, and Ava Macek as Mary. 

MARION — Giving Tree Theater has a secret to share.

With an exquisite musical score, top-notch singer/actors, lovely costumes and a dash of smoke and mirrors, a Broadway musical can leap into an intimate space and remain a thing of beauty.

“The Secret Garden,” the 1991 Tony-winning musical based on the beloved 1911 children’s book, opened Friday and continues through July 1 on directors Heather and Richie Akers’ ever-changing stage.

For the recent hilarity of “Noises Off,” the audience sat in what generally is the playing space at the back of the theater. With “The Secret Garden,” however, the action happens “in the round,” with audience members sitting on all four sides of the central stage. But very cleverly, the audience actually is sitting amid the action in a maze of couches, with the actors swirling around them like mist rising off the moors.

An upper level and a staircase allow the ghosts to keep an ever-watchful eye on the characters they loved in life.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, it’s the story of Mary Lennox (Ava Macek, 11, of Marion), who was orphaned in India during a cholera epidemic, then sent to live with her widowed uncle and invalid cousin on their dreary Yorkshire, England, estate.

Bored, lonely and naturally curious, she begins exploring the mansion and its vast grounds, unlocking secrets along the way.

Macek finds the right combination of spunk and defiance from Mary’s previously privileged experience, where her ayah (nanny) even dressed her. Mary seems oddly aloof to the death of her parents, perhaps because she lived a rather solitary life.

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When this “Mistress Mary, quite contrary” learns of her late aunt’s neglected garden, secreted behind a locked gate, she finally has found something she wants to bring back to life. In the process, it will bring her and everyone around her back to life, as well.

Standing in her way is her uncle’s brother, Neville Craven (Greg Smith). He’s not only the doctor tending to his bedridden nephew, Colin (Sam Shannon, 8, of Marion), he also is secretly mourning his brother’s late wife, Lily (Katie Galliart), whom he loved from afar.

Smith gets to plumb the depths of his acting skills, as well as his beautiful singing voice in this role. And when he and his brother Archibald (Conner Lewis) sing the anguished “Lily’s Eyes,” it’s impossible to hold back your tears.

The adult actors possess rich, gloriously trained vocals, making every single song something special to behold and embrace.

Galliart and Lewis create sonorous magic when they sing the heart-wrenching “How Could I Ever Know.” Be prepared to cry again. And both are tender with the children, too, as they guide them toward their new lives.

Also guiding the young ones are brother and sister duo Martha (Emma Gostonczik) and Dickon (Mic Evans), who bring an earthy, down-to-earth aspect to Mary and Colin’s lives in the house and in the garden. They conjure up magic outdoors, as the children invoke mystical spells in “Come Spirit, Come Charm.” Soon, Colin begins to shed the spite that shrouded him in his secret bedroom, and he, too, blossoms away from overprotective adult eyes.

Shannon, who actually is a girl cast in a boy’s role, is delightful as Colin, matching Macek in spunk and talent.

Heather and Richie Akers and their entire production team have planted something amazing in their own theatrical garden, where, as they lyrics suggest, life begins anew.

 

Get out!

 

WHAT: “The Secret Garden”

WHERE: Giving Tree Theater, 752 10th St., Marion

WHEN: To July 1; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

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TICKETS: $26, box office, (319) 213-7956 or Givingtreetheater.com

WHAT: “The Secret Garden”

WHERE: Giving Tree Theater, 752 10th St., Marion

WHEN: To July 1; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $26, box office, (319) 213-7956 or Givingtreetheater.com

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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