Bloom Where You’re Planted

FSLT’s ‘Se­cret Garden’ is lush, magical place

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RIVER VALLEY - LARA JO HIGHTOWER

The Fort Smith Lit­tle The­atre will mount the mu­si­cal ver­sion of the beloved clas­sic chil­dren’s book “The Se­cret Garden,” be­gin­ning with a Gala Open­ing Night event at 7:30 p.m. Thurs­day.

The chil­dren’s novel was writ­ten in 1911 and has re­mained a pop­u­lar sta­ple of chil­dren’s book­shelves ever since. The stage mu­si­cal of the book opened on Broad­way in 1991 and was nom­i­nated for seven Tony Awards, ul­ti­mately win­ning the prize for Best Book of a Mu­si­cal and Best Fea­tured Ac­tress in a Mu­si­cal for the ac­tress play­ing the cen­tral char­ac­ter of the story, newly or­phaned Mary, who is re­turned to the care of her un­cle af­ter both par­ents are killed by cholera in India. Her un­cle’s house is dank and dark, as he strug­gles with a de­pres­sion of his own due to the death of his wife, Lily, the original cre­ator of the tit­u­lar garden, which has been al­lowed to wither and die in the af­ter­math of her death. Mary will ul­ti­mately re­vive the garden, and, along the way, re­vive her sickly cousin Colin and her un­cle, as well.

“The garden has been unat­tended and giv­ing it love and care and at­ten­tion brought it back to life,” says di­rec­tor Ca­role Rogers, who is shep­herd­ing the show — along with long­time FSLT mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Ge­orge Mann — to­ward open­ing night. “That’s what hap­pens to the fam­ily, as well. Through Mary’s ef­forts, this fa­ther re­al­izes that his child can walk, sees the garden bloom­ing, and the three of them become a fam­ily.”

Rogers says play­go­ers will revel in the sweet story as well as the rous­ing score.

“You may have never heard the mu­sic be­fore, but once you hear it, you won’t for­get it,” prom­ises Rogers. “It’s beau­ti­fully done.”

Rogers has been in­volved with FSLT for around 25 years. She had never stepped foot on a stage un­til she was nearly 50 years old, when she was cast as Sophia in the com­pany’s pro­duc­tion of “So­cial Se­cu­rity.”

“I was in the throes of empty-nest syn­drome, look­ing for some­thing to do,” she says. “I did my very first part, and that was it. You just get the bug. I’ve made won­der­ful friends here.”

Rogers di­rected “Money Mat­ters” last year, but she says this is the first largescale mu­si­cal she has taken on. She ad­mits that the 20-plus per­son cast can be chal­leng­ing.

“But when it all comes to­gether — we have one point where some of the cho­rus is singing in the aisles and some on stage, and it’s lit­er­ally like stereo sound — it’s ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful.

“We have such tal­ent,” she con­tin­ues. “It’s amaz­ing how much tal­ent we have in an area as small as ours.”

The Gala Open­ing Night on Thurs­day will in­clude com­pli­men­tary hors d’oeu­vres and cham­pagne prior to the per­for­mance and dessert at in­ter­mis­sion.

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Katy Feather­ston as Martha, Bren­den Chick as Colin, Marie Gray as Mary and Eric Wells as Dickon re­hearse for the Fort Smith Lit­tle The­atre’s pro­duc­tion of “The Se­cret Garden.”

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