The Secret Garden at the Ahmanson

In case you missed yesterday’s post, here were my thoughts on the 1992 national tour of The Secret Garden.

Just got home from seeing The Secret Garden at the Ahmanson. It was only the second preview so a lot can still change. This post won’t have much structure….just my unedited….VERY scattered thoughts.

Ashley was so excited to finally see this show.

I hoped Center Theater Group’s production would be so stunning that it would demand a transfer to Broadway, but while I liked this version, I didn’t fall in love with it. Still glad I saw it though and grateful that I got to introduced my children to the show. My 10-year-old daughter Ashley sang “The Girl I Mean to Be” for several weeks with her voice coach last year, but she knew little else about the show. Great idea to move that song to early in the first act. I think that started with the London production???

They cut “Quartet.” 😞 😞 😞 😞 😞

Me when I opened the program
and didn’t see “Quartet” among the listed songs.

That was the most glaring omission when I flipped through my program before the show. It’s one of my favorite songs in the score. When Neville started singing it in act two, I got excited…thought it had been resuscitated too late to be included in the program listing, but then the song petered out after Neville’s first verse. 😞 😞 😞 It also meant that Ali Ewoldt as Rose, who has such a gorgeous voice, didn’t get to flaunt her talents more.

Sierra Boggess was lovely as Lily. What a thrill to hear that rich, beautiful voice in person. Can’t believe I’d never seen her perform live before tonight. I was pleased she got entrance applause. Way to go, LA! Her “Come to My Garden” was a highlight. My father was blown away by her. “What a voice,” he kept whispering after every solo.

I missed the passing of red handkerchiefs to depict death that was used in the original. Here they make the ill-advised choice to have one person depict the disease, wearing a costume that makes her look like Cassandra from Cats wandered on to the wrong stage. Cats is next door!

When will Aaron Lazar play a role that lets him show off his voice again? Saw him a few years back as Larry Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen and wished he’d had a chance to sing more in that show too. He sang gloriously as usual. I admired his more nuanced approach to Neville’s deceit, jealousy, and betrayal. Now let’s give this fantastic vocalist the starring role he deserves!!

Although Race You to the Top of the Morning was listed in the program, it was MIA. 😞 😞 😞 Was it a last-minute cut? The beautiful, sad song only added to the loneliness suffocating Archie. The song was missed.

Did I mention they cut “Quartet?” 😞 😞 😞

Derrick Davis was a more spry, handsome, almost-charismatic Archibald Craven than his predecessors. I had trouble viewing the character as an awkward, gloomy social outcast who inexplicably won Lily’s heart much to the horror of her family. Kept forgetting he was a hunchback too. Rose mocks his big hump on his back in a flashback, but it’s not noticeable. I wasn’t wanting Quasimodo, but he had a slight case of the slouches at worst. I guess it’s a backhanded compliment to say the actor was too good-looking and too appealing in the role. I kept thinking, “Nice catch, Lily!” instead of thinking that Lily had found a hidden beauty in Archie that was imperceptible to everyone else. What a singing voice though!

My biggest quibble with the show in general is that it’s so heavy with little humor to break up the constant melancholy, so I appreciated that Emily Jewel Hoder found more humor in Mary than I remember the character having. Her scenes with Colin (Reese Levine) were especially amusing.

I took my ten-year-old daughter, Ashley, to see the show. Beforehand, she asked why three actresses were listed for Mary in the program. My sister explained to her that children rotated in the role. After act one, Ashley said she liked Hoder’s Mary a lot and would miss her portrayal in act two when another actress took over the role. My sister had to explain that the child roles aren’t rotated mid-performance. 🤣 It was a cute moment. 😍

Actually I took all three of my children to this production. My 14 year old son fell asleep fifteen minutes into act one but kept apologetically insisting at intermission that he had a bad night’s sleep. My 12-year-old son “liked parts of it.” Ashley, who loves musicals, thought act one was “kinda boring” but she loved act two so….

John-Michael Lyles made a charming Dickon. He had a strong voice but that reminds me…

Something felt off with the audio. I’ve never walked out of the Ahmanson Theatre feeling disappointed with the sound quality until last night. I don’t need the sound blared like rock music but with a subtle, understated show like this…it’s disappointing to strain sometimes to hear the voices over the music. Twenty minutes into the show, I thought, “Dang it. I should’ve sprung for orchestra seats because I’m having to work to listen to these songs.”

My husband complained of the low audio too….especially since he didn’t know the show that well. He said he missed so many lyrics which led to confusion following parts of it.

I liked but didn’t love the minimalist set. Aspects of it were cool…especially the twisty vines (branches?) doubling as a staircase and later lightning. But if you’re sitting in the side balcony seats as I was….be prepared to hear but not see chunks of several songs. A lot of obstructed views from the balcony seats. Sometimes I felt like yelling, “Keep moving!” when an actor would stop walking and sing while standing in an obscured part of the set.

Didn’t love the act one ending. Kept thinking of the original and how Mary runs upstage…opens the door and teases the audience by almost revealing the garden. What a thrilling, memorable moment. Here the act ended with Mary opening the door out into the audience and it just didn’t work for me.

“Lily’s Eyes” is such a thrilling song. It’s so damn good. Wish the staging of this number in this production hadn’t been so frantic…so dizzying. Too much movement. I preferred the original where the two men stand in the study and sing of Lily’s eyes while her portrait looms in the background. With a song that wonderful, you need only stand there and sing it, but in this staging…everyone was directed to keep moving about the stage and it detracted from the power of the song.

“Hold On” handily won the award for loudest applause of the night. Julia Lester as Martha sang it well…didn’t shout it which was appreciated.

Wished we’d seen a garden at the end. II didn’t mind because I thought we’d be rewarded with a gorgeous garden at the end, but it was a minimalist garden too…although I loved the petals-falling-from-above effect.

I took my Mom and Dad to see this show back in 1993. Thirty years ago. Wow. My 51-year-old dad was so confused…had no idea that half the people on stage were ghosts. He thought they were servants. This production was a lot more effective at establishing the dead from the living. My now 81-year-old dad…who didn’t remember the show very well…had no problem grasping the ghosts concept in this production.

Did I mention they they cut “Quartet?” 😞😞😞

Gorgeous costumes. Loved Mary’s gradual transformation mirrored in her costumes.

Can’t say I got emotionally invested in the show until the very end when Archie and Lily sang “How Could I Ever Know?” That song brought tears to my eyes. My sister was crying too…although were we crying because the sting of losing our mom is still fresh, and we were sitting next to my dad who seemed quite emotional himself? Who knows. But yeah…definitely teared up during that song.

Also, they cut “Quartet.” 😞😞😞

Liked that Lily was allowed to be a vibrant redhead in this version instead of that washed out blonde look that was given to the gorgeous Rebecca Luker…whom I’d hoped the show might be dedicated to…along with Lucy Simon…but alas, no, it wasn’t. I miss Rebecca Luker.

Audience was so quiet throughout the evening that I wasn’t sure if the show was landing with them, but they erupted into a big applause at the end of the show.

Small beef. Our party of 8 sat on the aisle seats. Midway through the curtain call…right after the ensemble bowed….a woman in the smack middle of our row decided to leave before the principal performers had bowed. Our entire row had to stand and allow her to cross in front of us. We missed all of the leads’ bows. “She must have important dinner plans,” I snarked to my sister…as the woman made her way past us. She heard me because she turned and sarcastically snapped, “Thank YOUUUUUUU!”

No, lady, thank you for obstructing my view and inconveniencing our entire row because you couldn’t wait the 15 extras seconds for the curtain call to finish. I hope you accomplished something monumental…like saving a life in those precious 15 seconds you saved. And the annoying part? I wound up passing her on the way to my car as she stood by the front door gabbing with a friend…so she was obviously only in a hurry to leave her seat…not in a hurry to leave the theater.

Oh, yeah, in case I haven’t mentioned it. This production cut “Quartet.” 😞😞😞

I don’t want to end these scattered thoughts on a negative note so….Sierra Boggess is a goddess.

Reminder: Did you know that this former theatre kid wrote a YA book about a high school mounting a production of Les Misérables? You can find it on Amazon and at other major bookstores.

Memories: 1992 National Tour of The Secret Garden

Roger Bart and Melody Kay in 1992 tour of The Secret Garden

I’m heading to Downtown LA tonight to see a preview performance of Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s The Secret Garden at the Ahmanson Theatre. It’s one of my favorite musicals of all time. Even though I was a bookworm as a kid, I wasn’t a huge fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s book. I loved A Little Princess, but The Secret Garden…eh…the book always left me kinda cold. That wasn’t the case with the musical though. I loved, loved, loved the musical.

Scattered thoughts…

I first saw The Secret Garden in 1992 when the national tour played the since-demolished Shubert Theater in Century City. Can’t believe it’s been 31 years. Wow. Even though The Secret Garden is one of my favorite shows, I’ve only seen it twice…the aforementioned Shubert production and then again in 1993 when the tour returned to the area and played the Pasadena Civic Theater. I would’ve gladly supported a regional production of the show, but for some maddening reason, it’s rarely done on the regional scene. I’ve no idea why. I can’t think of a regional theatre in SoCal who has done the show in the last 20 years or so…though I may have simply missed hearing of a production.

I still remember much of the 1992 national cast from memory. Melody Kay was a terrific Mary Lennox, Kevin McGuire played Archibald with an aching sadness, Douglas Sills was a delicious Neville, the lovely Anne Runolfsson was Lily, Roger Bart rocked it as Dickon, Jacquelyn Piro was Rose (I saw her assume the role of Lily a year later), Audra McDonald!!! as Ayah, and Tracy Ann Moore (Okay, I had to look up this actress’s name, but I remember liking her very much) as Martha. Pretty awesome cast, huh?

Weird memory. We ate at Cheesecake Factory in Beverly Hills after the show. I was so excited when my lemonade arrived with a ring of wet sugar on the rim of the glass. Small things make me happy.

Anyway, I have waited a long time for someone to revive this show in the LA area, so I was thrilled when Center Theatre Group announced the 2023 production. The first time I saw the show, I was a college student who sat mesmerized from the opening to its final note. Now….31 years later…I finally get to return to The Secret Garden, but this time I’m a mother who is bringing her three children along for the experience. I hope they love the show as much as I did when I first experienced it.

Reminder: Did you know that this former theatre kid wrote a YA book about a high school mounting a production of Les Misérables? You can find it on Amazon and at other major bookstores.

Mr. Saturday Night

We watched the musical Mr. Saturday Night starring Billy Crystal on Broadway HD last week. Can’t say anyone who stayed until the end (we lost two viewers before the end of act one) dug the show.

Mr. Saturday Night based on the 1992 movie of the same name, which also starred Crystal, was a critical and commercial dud. I don’t know why anyone thought a musical needed to be made from the material. David Paymer scored an Oscar nomination for the film, but he’s wasted in the stage version with barely anything to do. Heaven forbid anyone should outshine Buddy.

Oh, Buddy…. He’s the show’s biggest problem.

The musical centers on Buddy Young Jr, an unfunny comic who cracks jokes that are supposedly shocking but really aren’t. Buddy is a horrible person…a spoiled brat who treats his family like dirt and only cares about earning laughs from strangers. I don’t know why anyone thought audiences would want to spend 2.5 hours with this character…much less cheer for him. I’m not sure if he’s a worse comic or a worse person. Whatever the case, he’s constantly throwing temper tantrums then being rewarded for his shitty behavior, and we’re supposed to be happy for him.

The movie didn’t need to be musicalized. The songs are unnecessary and barely move the plot forward. There’s never tension introduced in the show because you know that Buddy will act like an asshole and get everything he wants.

The terrific Randy Graff got stuck in the thankless role of Buddy’s patient wife. Shoshana Bean had the show’s most interesting character as Buddy’s long neglected daughter, Susan, but like Graff, she deserved better.

Blood Brothers on Broadway 1994

Blood Brothers 1994 Broadway Playbill

Still going through old Playbills. Blood Brothers was my final show on my 1994 trip to New York. We saw four shows in all that trip: Carousel, Miss Saigon, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Blood Brothers.

Carole King was playing Mrs. Johnstone at the time. Adrian Zmed was the narrator. Kerry Butler made her Broadway debut in the chorus. Susan Tilson, whom I loved as Eponine in the national tour of Les Miserables went on as Mrs. Lyons.

Odd memory. Some annoying guy sitting next to me kept cracking up at Carole King’s line deliveries. Not sure if he was thoroughly enjoying her performance or ridiculing it.

This was presented at the Music Box theater which I remember thinking was being quite beautiful.