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UP NEXT: THE SECRET GARDEN An interview with David Armstrong, Director of The Secret Garden

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What brought you to this particular show?

There are very few plays or musicals that I have directed more than once over the course of my career, but this will be the fourth time that I will stage The Secret Garden. It is almost 20 years since the last time, and I am thrilled to be revisiting this rich and compelling material.

Of course, the musical is based on the beloved novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett—an amazingly modern woman who was the J.K. Rowling of her day. The story and its indelible characters have been dramatized on stage and film dozens of times over the past 100 years. In this version, Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) and Lucy Simon (music) have done an exceptional job of transforming a charming children’s novel into a complex and dramatic musical that fully engages adults. The musical expands several of the narrative threads and minor characters, and amplifies the Gothic mystery aspects of the novel. Like most stories in that genre such as Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, our heroine, Mary Lennox, is brought to a big, dark, gloomy mansion—where secrets hide behind every door—and is thrust into a complicated relationship with a moody, tortured, romantic hero.

What elements or themes do you think will resonate with today’s audiences?

I believe the underlying darkness of this version of the story will strike a chord with contemporary audiences, along with its themes of regeneration and renewal. The title is a metaphor for what’s buried inside all of us—a place where only we can go to find joy, peace, love and contentment. This musical adaptation tells the story of how all of the major characters eventually discover that place—their personal secret garden—both literally and figuratively. Mary Lennox and her uncle Archibald Craven are both victims of traumatic events and they have closed themselves off from the world. At the beginning of the story they will do anything to avoid feeling the grief that is inside them. Only by being thrust together and being forced to see themselves reflected in each other can they ultimately be healed and learn to love again. I think we all can relate to this timeless story.

What will this show look and feel like?

We have assembled an amazing team of designers including Tony Award®-winning Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward (Beauty and the Beast, Into the Woods), as well as Tony®-nominees Anna Louizos (Scenic Designer, In the Heights, High Fidelity) and Michael Baldassari (Lighting Designer, Cabaret, Nine). Together they are creating an atmospheric visual world that will transport Mary Lennox and the audience from Colonial India to the mysterious Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire moors—and of course the magical secret garden itself. One of our goals is to have the audience experience the world of the story through Mary’s young eyes.

What can you tell us about casting?

Because this is a co-production with The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, the cast will be an exciting collection of first-class musical theater performers from Washington, D.C., New York, London and Seattle. The U.K. star Michael Xavier will make his U.S. debut as Archibald Craven, and he will be joined by Broadway’s Josh Young (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Lizzie Klemperer (Bright Star). Daisy Eagan—who became the youngest person to ever receive a Tony® for her performance as Mary Lennox in the original production—will take on the role of Martha, the young chambermaid who helps to bring Mary back to life. We found the two very talented young actors who will play Mary and her cousin Colin right here in the D.C. area.

Is there anything else our audience should know about The Secret Garden?

In my opinion, this show is blessed with one of the most beautiful and engaging musical scores ever created. This allows the story to work on our mind, heart and emotions on multiples levels all at the same time. The result never fails to deeply move the audience.

 

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