Mary Lennox is left an orphan when her parents die during a cholera epidemic in India, at a time when the country is still under the control of the British Empire. Mary is taken to live with her Uncle Archibald, who is suffering the torment of losing his wife, Lily, though some ten years have passed. Mary's resemblance to Lily, and her interest in reviving her late Aunt's garden, bring out mixed emotions in her Uncle. A chance encounter with her bedridden cousin Colin, provides additional stress and just the excuse her Uncle needs to flee to Paris, leaving the children in the hands of his brother, Dr. Neville Craven. However, the doctor is intent on sending young Mary off to boarding school while personally overseeing the treatment of Colin. In the end, it's not just the garden that's revived and rekindled.
Allie Morgan is very good as Mary. She possesses a fine, natural sounding voice that fits her character well. Her duet, "Show Me the Key", with Dickon, is especially sweet. Doug Erwin is exceptional as Archibald. His strong voice is a good fit for the role and his acting conveys a wide range of emotion as well. Erwin's vocals shine during his solo numbers, "A Bit of Earth" and "Where in the World". Belinda Quimby is cast well as the ghostly visage of Lily. Quimby has a lovely voice, but seemed a bit too restrained with it at times. Brad Behrmann underplays a tad as Neville, the villain of sorts of this piece, who confesses his unrequited love for his brother's wife and practices a form of therapy on young Colin that leaves him a virtual prisoner inside his room. Drew Reddington plays the crippled and spoiled Colin, and provides a fine voice that blends well with Miss Morgan. Jen Theby amuses as Martha the maid. Theby does a nice job with the playful tune, "A Fine White Horse", as she tries to cheer up Mary and entice her to get outside and explore. Alan Aligar is also good as Martha's brother, Dickon, who provides Mary with the key to Lily's secret garden. Aligar brings a puckish enthusiasm to the role. Christina Lorraine Rios, Robert Asthon and Lindsey Jones stand out among a solid supporting cast.
Suki Peters' direction is generally fine with consistent performances delivered by most of the actors. There are a few moments of awkward staging, due to a platform in front of the stage being set too low to allow clear sightlines for the entire audience. The pace is also somewhat sluggish in the first act, but did pick up noticeably after intermission. Some nice touches are present, though, including the use of a translucent portrait of Lily, that's lit to reveal her haunting apparition.
Musical director Mary Sutherland does stellar work with a small orchestral ensemble. By keeping their volume under control, she's able to allow most of the cast (with the exception of the children) to sing without microphones. Their disciplined performances overall reflect her keen hand as well.
Colin Frost's set design for the house is effective and clever, with a nice rotating set piece, but the garden's layout seemed woefully under grown. Since it's the metaphor for the show's message of the power of healing, it should be a much more clearly defined element. Debbie Bixler's costumes add a nice period touch to the proceedings.
Marsha Norman's book and lyrics condenses the story admirably, but there is some loss of characterization and motivation in the process. The flashback structure that's utilized manages to flesh out some of the details, but too many of these scenes are just superfluous. Lucy Simon's score is pleasant to listen to, but largely forgettable. Although, "I Heard Someone Crying" and "Quartet" stand out with their intertwining vocal parts.
Over Due Theatre Company's production of The Secret Garden continues through October 7th (2007) at the Olivette Community Center. Call 636-922-1784 for ticket information, or visit them online at www.overduetheatrecompany.com .