Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Secret Garden

A girl loses her parents and her uncle has lost his wife ten years ago. This common feeling of loss only separates the two more. Everyone deals with grief differently. So how can a piece of earth help both to overcome their pasts and give them hope?

In 1906 many British soldiers and their families are residing in India. However, there were numerous challenges in this English colony and besides uprisings, disease was a common problem resulting frequently in death.

For Mary Lennox the death of her parents due to cholera has left her in a foreign country without anyone caring for her. Her only surviving relative is in England and is still grieving from the loss of his wife many years ago.

Her uncle's housekeeper travels to India to escort Mary back to her new home in England. Although a new residence can be exciting, her grief and anger blind her.

Both are holding onto the past, finding no easy path into the world of the living.

"They are only a ghost if someone alive is holding onto them."

For Mary and her uncle, Archibald, clinging to these ghosts is their life.

This is The Secret Garden based on the book of the same title by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story is a classic with a story with a rich tradition and a tapestry intertwining the language. Adding a beautiful musical backdrop to a well-written story makes this a phenomenal production.

The music is rich and lush with melodic lines blending into this harmonious story revealing much of the story through song.

The chorus in this particular production is one of the best anywhere. Every voice is very capable to solo in any lead role. With these well-trained ensemble singers, their music is as intricate and important as the lead roles. My only problem was not really being able to identify who actually sings each beautiful solo.

In the lead role of Mary Lennox, Emma Johnson is the perfectly spoiled and resentful British child of privilege. She even maintains a proper posh English accent throughout the entire production. She sings well as a girl, not a woman's voice while commanding a presence of her character while on the stage.

The other child role of Colin Craven is portrayed by Danny Denenberg who is definitely a young actor with a very promising future. This boy has a beautiful voice and possesses a tremendous talent for acting.

As Colin's dead mother, Ariel Ibsen beautifully became Lily. Her acting demonstrated her love for both her husband and her child. Unfortunately, some of the songs seemed to stretch her singing range. Fortunately many of the chorus members were able to reach these notes.

In the roles of the hunchback Archibald Craven, Chris Ebke is wonderful. He excels as the grief-ridden widower consumed with memories of this wife. As his brother, Dr. Neville Craven, Jesse Black was perfect as expressing his frustration in love and jealousy with his singing.

Numerous other roles are outstanding such as Sarah Query as Martha the maid, Mark Haufle as the gardener Ben Weatherstaff, Travis Walker as Captain Albert Lennox and Hannah Hyer as Rose Lennox. I would have enjoyed hearing more from all of these talented individuals.

Not mentioned in the program is the band under the musical director, Jerry Brabec. This group is masterful with the constant musical demands of fifteen songs sung by the cast in the first act and twelve in the second. The band includes Larry Frederickson on bass, Darci Gamerl playing the oboe and English horn, Jennifer Novak Haar and Joseph Lorenzen playing keyboard, Ken Janek on the clarinet and bass clarinet, and Christine Price playing the flute, piccolo, recorder, and penny whistle. The capabilities of these talented musicians greatly enhanced the show.

Along with this once-in-a-lifetime cast, the costumes, make-up, wigs, scenery, sets, props, choreography, music, light, sound, management, production, and direction were all evidence of one of the best productions in this area rivaling any Broadway production.

The Secret Garden is a massively wonderful musical and is a phenomenal finale for this season at the Chanticleer Theater. This show is for older children, ones capable of reading the book and being seated for two and a half hours. With death, grieving, and ghosts being themes, this show is for mature children and adults. That said, there are other themes throughout such as hope, life and an appreciation of wonderful music.

The show lasts nearly two and a half hours with a fifteen-minute intermission.

The Secret Garden continues through this weekend at the Chanticleer Community Theater located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased through the box office by calling (712) 323-9955 costing $20 for adults, $ 16 for students, and $10 for students.

What a wonderful way of concluding this year's Chanticleer season with this phenomenal finale featuring the many talented performers of our community.

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