Producers John Frost and Opera Australia announced on Monday the full adult cast for the 25th anniversary production of The Secret Garden, which will play at the Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star from 2nd August, then transfer to Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from 13th November.

Seated in the Lyric, producers John Frost and Lyndon Terracini treated special guests and media to an introduction to their 2020 cast. Reprising his performance as Archibald Craven, Australia’s leading man of theatre, Anthony Warlow will step back into one of his most acclaimed roles.

Warlow joined Frost and Terracini on stage to share a few memories of the last time he performed in The Secret Garden, discussing the great difficulty that was his chemotherapy. He explained that, “This show during that time in my life turned out to be one of my greatest gifts,” adding, “well, second gift, that is next to my daughter.”

Warlow continued to delve into what drew him to The Secret Garden all those years ago: “The production was this very minimalist approach … I loved it, it opened new pathways to evolve myself as an actor … and despite all my experiences in theatre, The Secret Garden will always be my favourite musical … It’s, at its core, a show about redemption and holistic healing.”

After a few back and forths with Frost about the development of the wigs from the past production, Warlow went on to explain that in the original production, audiences were outraged during performances as they believed it wasn’t him performing on stage. “Of course, with [me] going through chemo at that time, once I took the wig off, I looked quite a bit different. So please tell people that it is actually me in the show!”

Joining Warlow will be Georgina Hopson (Ragtime, West Side Story) as Lily, Archibald’s late wife, and Rob McDougall (Assassins, Les Misérables) as Dr Neville Craven, Archibald’s brother. Alinta Chidzey (Chicago, A Little Night Music) will play Martha, Mary’s friend and maidservant; Nigel Huckle (West Side Story, Thoroughly Modern Millie) will be Dickon, a Yorkshire moor boy who befriends Mary and Colin; and Rodney Dobson (Wicked, Chicago) will play gruff elderly gardener Ben Weatherstaff. Gold Logie winner Rowena Wallace (Sons & Daughters, Neighbours) will return to the stage for the first time in many years to play Mrs Medlock, housekeeper at Misselthwaite Manor.

The child actors who will play Mary Lennox and Colin Craven will be announced at a later date, although Frost informed us that over 700 children just recently auditioned for the roles.

When speaking to Georgina Hopson about her role as Lily, it was clear to see the depth of her passion and love for this character and the show in general. “Lily basically represents the garden, so in that sense her character’s arch is really tied to Archibald’s. He locked the garden away when she died to try to lock away his pain … she’s a ghostly figure and her place in the show is a metaphor for what the garden represents to Archibald, and later Mary. Having re-read the book quite recently, I re-discovered the deep themes of the show and the ideas of healing that is written into it.”

Hopson treated us to a small taste of her vocal prowess on stage and she was exquisite to hear sing as Lily. Hopson, though, is all too familiar with the style of music that is the score of The Secret Garden, having played characters such as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance. She mentioned how she loves the challenges of the score. “It’s a slower paced musical to others but audiences will be lost in the magic on stage and the children will be lost by the literal stage magic that occurs too” (which, without giving too much away, seems as though it will be a big draw for the younger audiences.)

As one of Australia’s hardest working performers on the scene, Rodney Dobson was drawn to his own pleasures of attacking The Secret Garden: “Having just finished playing Amos in Chicago (literally the night before), it’s good to see classics return and to get to be apart of them, let alone with [Warlow]. So many of the modern musicals are so fast and quick, shows like this really help to set it apart from the others.”

Dobson describes his character Ben the Gardener of the Manor as, at first, “grumpy and crusty but with a big heart … he’s layered” and with a thick Yorkshire accent, it’s a role that offers a lot of comedy to the more heavy themes of the show. When discussing Warlow, Dobson can’t wait to pick his brains, explaining that “[Warlow] was an idol for me during my studies and now it’s a full circle dream to get to perform with him.”

Warlow and Rob McDougall treated the audience to the songs A Bit of Earth and the powerful Lily’s Eyes as just a taster of what this show will present to audiences when it opens in August.

When asked how things have changed in the 25 years since the show was last in Australia, Warlow quipped that “during the original production I was a bold Pinot Noir but now I’d say I’m a heavy Shiraz.” Indeed, with such a delectable array of tastes in the cast itself, Frost implores audiences to get in quick because they’re sure to have a bumper season.

Photo credit: Justin Clarke

SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
Season: From 2 August 2020
Performance times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm
Prices: From $79.90 **
Bookings: secretgardenmusical.com.au or 1300 795 267
Group bookings of 12+ call 1300 889 278

MELBOURNE SEASON DETAILS

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Season: From 13 November 2020
Performance Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm*
Prices: From $79.90 **
Bookings: secretgardenmusical.com.au or 132 849
Group bookings of 12+ call 1300 364 001
* Performance times vary weekly
** Transaction fees apply

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