The Secret Garden has a special place in many people’s hearts. Be it as a novel, a film, or a musical, the timeless story has a way of staying with people far beyond their exposure to it. The Young Australian Broadway Chorus will be staging a new version of the classic story, when they introduce The Secret Garden – Spring Version to Melbourne later this month. We got the chance to talk with the production’s dedicated choreographer, Jacqui Green, and talented musical director, Lucy O’Brien, to discuss the upcoming performance season.
“The Secret Garden – Spring Version is a very special adaptation”, states O’Brien. “It has been created not only to draw in the young people in the audience, but also to showcase the young performers.” Traditionally, the chorus of The Secret Garden is made up of adults; in the Spring Version, the piece is narrated by a children’s chorus that appears on stage throughout the entire show. The show is also distilled to 70 minutes. “It gives the young people in the audience more characters to identify with, and the chance to share their experiences and reactions as the story unfolds.”
Those familiar with the breathtaking, 1991 Tony Award-winning score will be eager to witness this ambitious, rarely-performed masterpiece. However, those unfamiliar with the music or the historical Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, whether they be younger theatregoers or otherwise, should not shy away from this intimate retelling. “In its own way, The Secret Garden is a modern story,” states O’Brien. “Contrary to what a lot of people may think, the book was set in the time period it was being written in – 1909.” The sense of modernity gently permeating the piece is, in a way, in its themes – some of the themes presented in the piece are remarkably mature, such as finding peace after loss. Yet Garden is careful to not talk down to the children it is, at times, oriented towards – and who are, undeniably, at the centre of its narrative. Children are the spirit of the Garden.
In another way, however, The Secret Garden’s innovation is in its depth of emotional and psychological exploration. It is harrowing, swelling deep within the characters, both dead and alive, as they discover truths and planes previously barren. The audience will feel the swelling within their core, too, whilst watching the garden grow back to life. The garden will enchant even the most cynical, and touch even the most detached, disbelieving heart.
We asked choreographer Jacqui Green to describe the creative process behind the movement, and what it means to the piece. “The challenge with The Secret Garden is the intimacy and delicacy of the movements on stage” Green states, citing a very marked contrast with YABC’s parallel production, Alice in Wonderland Jr., which she is also choreographing. “As opposed to what audiences might expect from a traditional musical where there are set musical numbers, The Secret Garden is beautiful and subtle. Through movement, it moves from being a book to a play, and then through movement and song it builds into a musical.” The space between worlds is bridged – life and death, story and dream – through movement and music, scenes blending together.
Various musical motifs whisper throughout the piece, such as Lily’s iconic and ethereal “Come To My Garden”, tying together such breathtaking and famous moments as “Hold On” and “Lily’s Eyes”. “I’m moved by how the score has been tailored for young voices to make it contemporary, while still maintaining the beautiful depth, harmonies, and dreaminess of the original score”, O’Brien states. “The songs tell the inner workings of the characters’ emotions and thoughts… building the emotion of the show.” The art of atmosphere is palpable in the Garden. At times laced with a gothic fog, at times kissed with a warm afternoon sun, the manifestation of characters’ inner truths is set to be beautifully emotive.
The Young Australian Broadway Chorus creates musicals for young people, performed by young people. The Secret Garden – Spring Version is no exception to this trend, but that is not to say that the ethereal, poetic production will not be truly exceptional. Like a haunting, mournful dream, this snapshot in time and place will linger. O’Brien put it best when she admitted that “I can’t really put into words just how enchanting and moving this musical is.” Fans of the original novel, or any adaptation, as well as those unfamiliar with the story – young and old – should come and witness the magic of The Secret Garden and all that blooms within.
The Secret Garden runs from January 21-30 at The Lawler at the Southbank Theatres. To purchase tickets, please go to http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/other-companies/the-secret-garden/