When this CCM season was announced, there was one show that made me groan under my breath. THE SECRET GARDEN, while a pleasant story with a soaring score and the opportunity for gorgeous sets and costumes, just kind of bored me the last time I saw it. I remember liking the production more than I thought I would have but never having a desire to see it staged again.
And then CCM puts it squarely in what I call my “birthday spot.” The spring semester mainstage show typically opens on or around my birthday. It figures that the year that the only present I got for turning 44 besides food poisoning would be a show that I didn’t care to see.
Then Connor Gallagher, the choreographer of Broadway’s “Beetlejuice,” was announced as the director and choreographer. I became a bit more intrigued. What would someone who’s currently working professionally at the highest level do with the talent and resources of CCM? Even in a show like this, would he maximize the potential? Would he genuinely showcase his alma mater the way it should be?
He did. Tenfold, in fact. I don’t remember walking away from a show this impressed in awhile.
THE SECRET GARDEN, based on the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is the story of “Mary Lennox,” an orphan who is sent to live with her uncle in a big dark house with lots of secrets, including an abandoned garden that used to tended by her late aunt Lily. She makes friends with the house staff – and others – and brings life and light back to the place and the people who inhabit it. It’s charming.
“Mary” is played by Zoe Mezoff, and if you told me she was someone they recruited from CCM Prep (a program that trains young people in musical theatre), I would have believed you. Playing young children is hard; the sweet spot between over-the-top and believable is a tight one. Mezoff’s performance was perfect. Her mannerisms, her body language – and of course, her singing – were Broadway-level quality.
A fantastic cast of characters surrounds her. Delaney Guyer’s “Lily” was exquisite, with rich soprano vocals that induced goosebumps. Madison Hagler and Sam Pickart each embodied the Craven men with spectacular voices and tormented pain. Ana Chase Lanier’s “Martha” is spunky and showed off her vocal prowess on “Hold On,” while Kurtis Bradley Brown (“Dickon”) lit up the room with his energetic rendition of “Winter’ on the Wing.” Jenna Bienvenue transformed into the role of “Colin” convincingly and served as some of the best comic relief of the somewhat somber story. As much as she and Mezoff morphed into the younger characters, those who played older did so as realistically. Britta Cowan (“Mrs. Medlock”), Jamie Goodson (“Mrs. Winthrop”), and Nick Berringer (“Ben”) also shone brightly. Other standouts in the large ensemble included Matt Copley, Mikayla Renfrow, Elijah King, and Bailee Endebrock. At the same time, the entire company hit every mark and accentuated the grander vision by director Gallagher.
His staging of the production was fluid, the movement was captivating, and the use of the platform at the front of the orchestra pit as a playing space was inspired. His influence cannot be overstated. The gorgeous set design by Joshua E. Gallagher is one of the best created for this gigantic stage. Evan Carlson’s lighting added to the story, while Zachory Ivans sound design was textured -and better executed than most CCM productions I’ve seen. Jeremy Robins Lyons musical direction was out of this world, with a luscious orchestra and magnificent vocals throughout the show. Dean Mogle’s amazing costumes lived up to his legendary reputation, and Marnee Porter’s wig and make-up design kept us in the time and place remarkably well.
I can’t wait for CCM to announce next year’s season; this time, I promise not to groan no matter what shows are selected. After all, this one blew me away and I don’t even like it!
CCM’s next musical will be “Bright Star,” directed by Katie Johannigman, opening April 2nd. Tickets and more information are available here.
• Connor Gallagher, director and choreographer
• Jeremy Robin Lyons*, musical director
• Joshua E. Gallagher, scenic designer
• Evan Carlson*, lighting designer
• Zach Buscher* and Seth Howard*, prop masters
• Andrew Volzer*, production stage manager
• Dean Mogle, costume designer
• Marnee Porter*, wig and make-up designer
• Zachory Ivans*, sound designer
* CCM Student
• Zoe Mezoff as Mary Lennox
• Delaney Guyer as Lily
• Madison Hagler as Archibald Craven
• Sam Pickart as Dr. Neville Craven
• Anna Chase Lanier as Martha
• Kurtis Bradley Brown as Dickon
• Jenna Bienvenue as Colin
• Britta Cowan as Mrs. Medlock
• Jamie Goodson as Mrs. Winthrop/Jane
• Nick Berninger as Ben
• Christian Feliciano as Fakir
• Sofie Flores as Ayah
• Mikayla Renfrow as Rose Lennox
• Matt Copley as Captain Albert Lennox
• Michael Canu as Lt. Peter Wright
• Elijah King as Lt. Ian Shaw
• Hank Von Kolnitz as Major Holmes
• Veronica Stern as Claire Holmes
• Jack Brewer as Major Shelley
• Zoë Grolnick as Mrs. Shelley
• Bailee Endebrock as Alice
• Chip Hawver as William
• Cassie Maurer as Betsy
• David Littlefield as Timothy
• Swings: Sasha Spitz and Cole Harksen
• Dance Captains: Michael Canu and Bailee Endebrock