The stage musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel The Secret Garden is making its way back to New York more than 25 years after its Broadway premiere.
This new Broadway-aimed incarnation was created in partnership between Seattle's the 5th Avenue Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where it recently concluded a critically acclaimed run.
The show’s director and choreographer is David Armstrong, executive producer and artistic director of Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, where the production will set down roots April 14–May 6.
As first reported by Playbill.com, Gerald Goehring and Michael F. Mitri of Patriot Productions have picked up a Broadway option for the revival, and it is expected that additional regional theatres will take part in the show’s development before it ultimately arrives in New York.
The haunting musical about a young orphaned girl who is sent to live with her estranged uncle has undergone several incarnations and overhauls since its 1991 Broadway premiere.
Armstrong tells Playbill.com that this latest version of The Secret Garden includes several structural changes, some of which affect the show’s score.
Armstrong co-directed the show’s post-Broadway regional premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 1995, and has reunited with composer Lucy Simon and librettist Marsha Norman, who were interested in finding ways to “tell the story more efficiently,” Armstrong says. “There’s been some re-ordering of the material and quite a bit of cutting as well. Both acts are coming in at under an hour now.”
Cut from the score are “Round-Shouldered Man” and “Race You to the Top of the Morning,” both of which explore the father-son relationship between widower Archibald Craven and his son Colin.
Also gone is the operatic second act musical sequence “Quartet,” which provides a glimpse into the backstory of the show’s adult characters. The creators retained elements of the “Quartet” to create a new song for the character of Neville Craven, Archibald’s jealous brother.
Armstrong confesses all three cut songs are “substantial numbers.” However, they share a common theme: None of them directly impact the story arc of Mary Lennox, the show’s central character.
“We try to see the whole show through Mary’s eyes,” the director reveals. “The whole show, the physical production, is about what the experience was like for this little girl to be totally thrown into this alien world and this giant, 100-room mansion, with mysteries and ghosts hiding behind every corner. ... Then the light at the end of the show, coming out of this darkness is very, very dramatic and satisfying.”
“In some ways this is probably a darker version,” says Armstrong. “We are really emphasizing the Gothic mystery element of the story. I think that one of the great achievements of the show is that it worked brilliantly on both ends for adults and children.”
Pulitzer-winning playwright Marsha Norman made her debut as a lyricist with The Secret Garden, and also earned a Tony Award for writing the show’s book. She has been a driving force behind the evolution of the musical, and continues to send Armstrong new drafts of the script.
A dramatic linchpin to this revival is the casting of original cast member Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony Award in 1991 for her performance as Mary Lennox. At age 11, she made history as the second-youngest person ever to win a Tony.
“It is a great joy to work with her and a great joy to watch her experience being in the show,” according to Armstrong. “I think it’s very therapeutic for her, because she gets to sing to her younger self in the show.”
Eagan has spoken openly about her complicated relationship with The Secret Garden. Shortly after her history-making Tony win, Eagan’s mother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer that would ultimately claim her life by the time Eagan was 13 years old.
Armstrong reflects, “I think for her to go back from the perspective of the adult, and now being the one taking care of this little girl—nurturing her and caring for her—is really wonderful to watch.”
A target season for The Secret Garden’s Broadway return has not been set, but Armstrong says the prospect is thrilling. “We had the idea from the beginning that we were hoping to create something that would work its way back to New York.
“The show is extraordinary to begin with, and the music and the lyrics are among the finest from the modern-era of music theatre.”