When I was a little girl, my family spent summers exploring national parks like Yellowstone, Banff, Yosemite, and Canyon De Chelly. There were no televisions in cars then and no video games. We didn’t even bring along a portable radio the first few years. There was a stereo in the motor home—it had an eight-track tape player. So when traveling from one destination to another we did a lot of reading.
One of the books I remember most clearly was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Most people wouldn’t classify The Secret Garden as a fantasy novel, but to a well-loved, well-cared-for, American girl hiking in cut off jeans and a Camp Yomechas tee shirt, nothing seemed more unreal than the life of Mary Lennox. Born in India at the turn of the 20th century to British parents who ignore her and raised by a series of ayahs (Indian nannies), Mary awakens one morning to find that everyone she knows has died or fled in the night during a cholera outbreak. She is sent to Yorkshire, England to live with an uncle she has never met in his large and gloomy home. There she meets her invalid cousin Colin who has been shut away since his mother died giving birth to him. Together, with the help of their Yorkshire friends, they begin to heal—Colin physically and Mary spiritually as they reawaken Colin’s mother’s garden and make the first friendships of their young lives.
I loved the foreignness of the story as a child. And yet, there was something I could relate to—the healing power of nature and the importance of connecting with others. At night, I read about Colin growing stronger as he dug in the earth while I spent my days looking for new kinds of wild flowers and skipping stones in mountain streams. As I read about Mary learning to care about others, I was learning to make friends with children I met while traveling. My life couldn’t have been more different than Mary and Colin’s and yet there is something universal about their story—we all need growing things and the company of others.
As an adult, I fell in love Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s musical version of The Secret Garden. Norman expanded the stories of the adult characters, but like any good adaptation, it is true to the themes of the novel. Simon’s score is glorious with lighthearted songs like “Show Me the Key”, heart wrenching ballads like “How Could I Ever Know”, and powerful ensemble numbers like “House on a Hill” .
When the Board of Milton Players asked me to interview to direct The Secret Garden I was beyond excited—and a little scared. This is a very demanding show for a performer. We needed people who could really sing—what if they didn’t show up at auditions? But show up they did! I feel so blessed to work with a cast and crew that are not only talented, but generous, adventurous, and kind as well. Many director’s notes that I have read and written end by telling the audience to sit back, relax and enjoy the show. This time however, I suggest you come to our garden and open your heart to the sights and sounds of springtime.