By Mark-Brian Sonna
Repertory Company Theatre of Richardson inaugurated their new space with what is perhaps one of the most difficult musicals to mount properly: A Secret Garden. While the story is simple--a girl is orphaned and taken to live in England, only to become ignored by all adults and finds solace and healing in a "Secret Garden" that not only transforms her but is able to also transform all those around her--the musical has a score that requires from most of the singers an operatic range, yet because it's a family musical it dare not enter into the realm of opera. The timeline of the story is confused in that not only do we have flashbacks but some of the characters from the past at times interact with characters in the present. The play demands a large scale set for there are numerous locales that must be taken into account. Lastly it requires an enormous cast, something most small theatres can't pull off effectively for they lack the talent pool.
So how did RCT do? Quite admirably.
The entire cast is absolutely solid in their musicianship. Jaw-droppingly-gorgeous voices abound. I cannot emphasize enough how talented this group is vocally, it was thrilling hearing them sing. On top of that, many are also very good actors. Standouts include Laura Alley as Lily with a liquid voice that is haunting and befitting of her character, Darin Fimple whose baritone voice projects a palpable tension and subdued rage found in his character Dr. Neville Craven, Loree Westbrooks as Martha the maid who delivers each sung note so honestly and makes the daunting score seem absolutely natural, and Elizabeth Evans as Mary Lennox, the lead who so completely inhabits her character that her singing was sublimely effortless. My only quibbles with the rest of the cast, and it may have been more of directing choice, versus a performer's choice, was that when they were getting ready to sing, we, as an audience, knew it. A musical such as this requires the performer to glide back and forth between speaking and singing, which the four mentioned above were able to do with great ease and they also never broke down the fourth wall. I wish the rest of the cast could have followed their example. This constant break between song and dialogue and the breaking down of a fourth wall may have been due to either a directorial choice of Debra Carter, or an oversight in direction since it was so inconsistent. When the performers stopped to sing to the audience instead of to each other the momentum of the drama would break, and the musical developed a concert-like feel, then, moments later the fourth wall would be back up, and the drama would continue. This flaw unfortunately diminished the overall emotional impact this musical is meant to create.
While the concept of the stage design was good, the lighting unfortunately cast too many awkward shadows, dark spots, and surprisingly intense bright spots, not always where they needed to be. Also since this is a period piece, plastic pots stood out amongst all the period-correct clothing. Kudos must be given to the choreographer Brittany Levrae for it was spot on.
Overall these quibbles are minor. The fact that RCT was able to pull together such a complex show, with such an amazing array of superb vocal talent in what is a very comfortable new theatre space, proves that RCT has become a major player in the North Texas Theatre scene. To inaugurate their new theatre space with such a solid show is a sign of good things to come.
The Secret Garden, book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, Music by Lucy Simon, runs through June 24, 2007. Details www.rcttheatre.com Box office #972-690-5029. Tickets $12- $20. Repertory Theatre Company is located at 650 N. Coit #2320, Richardson, TX 75080.
Mark-Brian Sonna is an independent theatre producer in the North Texas area, and is artistic director of MBS Productions.