Home #Hwoodtimes The Secret Garden Captivates a New Generation at The Ahmanson Theatre

The Secret Garden Captivates a New Generation at The Ahmanson Theatre

The Center Theatre Group offers a magical night of theatre where an inspired revisioning of the twentieth-century classic of children’s literature shows how kindness heals emotional scares.

By John Lavitt

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 03/1/23 – In a magical retelling at the Ahmanson Theatre, The Secret Garden, a children’s classic by novelist Frances Hodgson Burnett, is transformed into an inspired musical. Combining the book and lyrics of Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman with the music of Grammy Award-winning composer Lucy Simon, the production fleshes out both the fairy tale effervescence and the painful emotional reality of a complex storyline. Indeed, the musical is the crowning achievement of a wonderful Center Theatre Group season.

The expert direction and choreography of Warren Carlyle are positively enhanced by the transcendent set design of Jason Sherwood. Additionally, the costume design of Ann Hould-Ward is period perfect, with detailed accouterments by wig and makeup designer Victoria Tinsman. With the diverse array of lovely elements coming together, the production reflects the ongoing excellence of the Center Theatre Group’s work. At the same time, it arguably is the finest production of the young season with a transportive quality that takes the audience on a journey into another world, another time, and another place.

After being orphaned during a cholera outbreak in India, young Mary Lennox (a truly impressive Emily Jewel Holder) returns to England to live with her reclusive uncle on his haunted English country estate. As Archibald Craven, Derrick Davis is a magnificent force of nature. The audience feels his tactile grief for the loss of his beloved wife, Lily Craven (a magnetic and ethereal Sierra Boggess). After dying in childbirth, Lily haunts the estate lovingly, wanting only her young son and broken husband to find the peace and happiness that her death has made seem a lost impossibility.

As Mary Lennox, Emily Jewel Holder commands the stage with her presence. Whether angry or jubilant, her emotions express themselves in movement and song. Indeed, the casting of the whole company is excellent, with one exception. As Dickon, the scullery maid’s brother, John-Michael Lyles is a genuinely talented actor cast in the wrong part.

In the original storyline, Dickon is the same age as Mary and about the same size. Although small in stature, John-Michael Lyles is a twenty-one-year-old young man. Emily Jewel Holder’s Backstage Profile describes the actor’s age range as seven to ten. A bit out-of-date, her range today is nine to twelve. Regardless, she is a decade younger than John-Michael Lyles, and the obvious age gap makes their connection unbelievable, undermining the story’s believability.

Julia Lester and Emily Jewel Hoder

Despite this lapse, the musical remains a rousing success. The emotions Mary Lennox and Archibald Craven expressed come together to touch the hearts and minds of the audience. As a ghost behind the scenes, Lily Craven is like a magical weaver putting together the lost strings of love and creating a tapestry of a renewed family.


(Photos: Matthew Murphy of MurphyMade)

Incredibly, tickets to The Secret Garden and 75+ additional productions in Southern California are now available for $20 during LA Theatre Week.