secretBill Clinton may be a tough act to follow, but the cast and crew of The Secret Garden seem to be handling the Roone Arledge stage quite well – or at least they’re putting on a good show. Hannah Goldstein reports from the (secret) final dress rehearsal.

You might say the ‘Secret’ is out of the Box: the passing of Columbia Musical Theatre Society’s biannual black box show, has left the Secret Garden as this semester’s main stage production. At their last dress rehearsal before a two-night run, the cast presented a small audience (including Lucy Simon, the composer of the original score, no less) with a somewhat unconventional twist on the old classic. The performance marks the culmination of the Columbia Musical Theater Society’s long proposal and approval process that lead first-time director Mary Jo Holuba, BC ’12, to take on the non-traditional project.

Unlike the story you may remember, the show is more thematic than plot-driven. Holuba emphasized healing as the driving theme by re-envisioning traditionally inert entities as dancing people: ghosts, plants, and exotic memories take on human form and remained a constant force onstage throughout the two-and-a-half hour performance, whether shifting silently in the background or executing wild turns center stage at movements of high tension. The dancing was, for the most part, entrancing, but the presence of the dancers occasionally distracted from what plot action did occur between the speaking characters as they acted out a story about young Mary Lennox, who comes to life after the death of her parents in an unlikely garden at an English estate. Though the set was fairly minimalist and the pit claims a sizeable part of the stage space, the blocking and choreography easily filled the rest of the space, making for an interesting but occasionally overstimulating show, at least in the visual realm. The music, however, was fitting, well-executed, and effective – ironically most noticeably so when the stage was most crowded.

Talent abounded onstage. Sophomore Victoria Pollock is startlingly well-suited to lead the show; with her expressive face and body and her gentle singing voice, she plays both a pitch- and picture-perfect Mary. Leigh Gerber also performed well as the chambermaid Martha, and Emily Buttner BC ‘13, is remarkably convincing as the crippled and prepubescent boy Colin, despite actually being mobile, post-pubescent and female. These three actresses constitute a fraction of the speaking and/or singing characters. Members of  Orchesis (under the watchful eye of choreographer Mishi Castroverde) backed the cast in the aforementioned dance roles.

Holuba says she chose The Secret Garden in particular because it was the first Broadway musical “written by a woman, composed by a woman, and directed by a woman.” (Incidentally, the show’s “book” – i.e., script –  is based on the actual book of the same name authored by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a major female literary figure.) The highlights of the show offstage appeared to be Simon’s interactions with cast and crew members. Simon had read about the production and stopped by to watch, much to the emotional distress of the music director and the pit musicians. After the final curtain Simon spoke of her relationship with the show, reflecting as its “mother” and ”nurturer” and giving praise along with some general notes and suggestions to the performers. She said she appreciated this take on the show, citing the “wonderful conception of using the ghosts as a constant presence.”

She had a point. In the end, what was most memorable was the dancing – classical with a touch of modern, just like Holuba’s unique vision of the show itself. Even though The Secret Garden hasn’t been revived on Broadway since its 1993 closing, here at 115th and Broadway it took on a new life.

Purchase tickets for shows tonight and tomorrow night at TIC for $5 with or $10 without CUID.