You know that you're watching a heckuva amateur theater production when you are only conscious about a quarter of the time that you're watching people who have day jobs as teachers and librarians. You know you're watching a phenomenal young person's production when you're only conscious one-quarter of the time that not only are you watching nonprofessionals, but also not one of them is old enough to hold a day job.
The Secret Garden, the musical that had an incredibly short run at the FAC last week falls into the latter category. A production of the Youth Repertory Company, The Secret Garden was blessed by a dedicated director, Rhonda Greder Kimble, and some awesome talent nurtured in the bosom of Colorado Springs.
For those unfamiliar with the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this complex production may have been a little confusing. Fundamentally, the story is of young Mary (Katrina Pacheco) a British girl in India who is orphaned by an outbreak of cholera. Left without immediate family, she is shipped off to her uncle Archibald (Erik Bryan), the widower of her mother's sister, Lily (Chelsea MacMillan). The uncle, though kind-hearted, is deeply bereaved by the death of his wife some 10 years before, and wishes to have nothing to do with the young orphan. Left to her own devices, she wanders the halls and gardens of his Yorkshire mansion until she discovers both the locked garden of her deceased aunt, and Colin (Sara Barad), the crippled son of her uncle, who is tended in secret by her uncle's brother (Aaron Wilder).
As producer Sandra Womochil Bray noted in her introductory speech, it is easy in such a production to make a fuss only about the people on stage and forget the many people who make such a production possible. For example, she noted that Alison Martin was the first teen-age stage manager that they had employed for their series, a huge deal for a production such as this, with many scene changes, complex staging and an apparent cast of thousands.
Of course, Bray knew in advance that the fine work of the orchestra, set designers and even dancers would be overshadowed by the amazing voices of the young lead actors. Pacheco, who is a powerful stage presence with a dynamite voice, led the group. In some terrific duets and trios, she and the other major characters showed tremendous strength. For example, when Byran and Wilder sang a tenor duet their voices resonated wonderfully with each other, and the singers did the best thing that singers can do -- they listened to one another. When joined by MacMillan and Emily Sawyer (playing Mary's mother, Rose), the sound was full and glorious. The production was rounded out by a pair of terrific character actors, Rachel Gavaletz and Blake Pfeil, who lit up the stage with their comedy.
Although the production was wonderful, the best part was probably when it was over and the young actors gathered in the hallway of the FAC to be greeted by their friends, families and fans. There, the spell of the theater broken, it was really clear that the makeup was just that, and that none of these performers was even close to the legal drinking age. Such is the magic of theater, and of the work begotten of passion, talent and opportunity. Huzzah for that, and for the FAC and Youth Rep for providing an outlet for such remarkable work.
-- Andrea Lucard