Skip to content

CCM Brings Heart and Soul to “The Secret Garden”

Review by Kevin Reynolds of “The Secret Garden”: CCM Musical Theatre

Working around the news as I do, weeks like this can take their toll – not to mention fighting off a stubborn cold. While part of me wanted to take the night off, I made my way to the Corbett Auditorium at CCM (in a surprise rain shower nonetheless) to see the second night of their production of “The Secret Garden.” And I’m very glad I did, and I hope you can find your way there as well.

I don’t want to spend time recapping the twists and turns of the plot, but the thumbnail is young Mary Lennox, living in India, loses her parents to cholera. Her only living relative is an uncle by marriage who lives a sheltered, melancholy life in a manor on the moors of northern England. He is friendless, save for his younger brother who controls his affairs, plus he has a sickly son, whose birth caused the death of his beloved. As Mary rebuilds her life, she’s helped by the maid, the maid’s brother, the gardener, and I’ll leave it at that.

“The Secret Garden” is based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel and was adapted by Marsha Norman with music by Carly Simon’s sister, Lucy. The songs all help tell the story, share the emotions, and allow you into the souls of the characters. While you won’t leave humming the finale, you will feel fulfilled by the way the story was told.

I can’t say enough good things about the work of the guest director and choreographer, CCM alum Connor Gallagher. With a very successful career in New York (including choreographing the current Broadway hit Beetljuice) and elsewhere, his direction is both energetic and reserved, flowing and heartfelt. The chorography is dynamic and graceful, and he uses his cast and ensemble to perfection. He has a very special touch and it was a treat to witness.

The set takes full advantage of the space in the Corbett Auditorium, using a series of staircases and doorways to keep the action moving at a steady pace, allowing for a variety of egresses that keep your eyes moving and absorbing the story. It flows seamlessly from India to the wuthering heights; from indoors to outdoors; and from day to night. Scenic Designer Joshua Gallagher and his crew of nearly 60 constructed a set (and two impressive trees) that is purposeful, surprising, and the perfect setting for the action.

I would be writing this review all night if I spotlighted each cast member who deserves it, but any production of “The Secret Garden” really lives and dies with Mary Lennox. Zoe Mezoff beautifully captures the fears and frustrations of a suddenly-alone young girl and her strength and determination not to be forgotten or locked away. Her transformation and growth, much like the garden she brings back to life, happen right before your eyes and it’s truly lovely.

One other cast member who is so very memorable is Kurtis Bradley Brown as Dickon, brother to the housekeeper and a full liver-of-life, even in the moors. His almost leprechaun-like charm (and his ability to speak robin) is the proverbial ray of sunshine in Mary’s darkest days, and Brown brings such joy to his performance.

The ensemble, under Gallagher’s direction, brought to the stage flowers and wind and spirits and fears, all with the use of their voices, their bodies, and parasols. They represented times past, times present, and those spirits perhaps we all have beside us. There wasn’t a false note in any of the vocal performances, plus the costumes were all spectacular, sometimes just in their simplicity. 

The 16-piece orchestra, led by Jeremy Robin Lyons and Dean Balan, included harp, pan pipes, and more and provided wonderful accompaniment to the vocalists, but occasionally were a bit much under dialogue. CCM is using an enhanced, immersive sound system for “The Secret Garden” and I’d say it was 98% effective, but just a shade overwhelming at times.

I know this is short notice and I know you may have a busy weekend, but if you love musical theatre, if you want to share this special story with your children, please make arrangements now as “The Secret Garden” only runs through Sunday. There are two performances Saturday (2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) and one on Sunday (2 p.m.) Visit the CCM Box Office online at https://ccm.uc.edu/ or call 513-556-4183.