CCM’s “The Secret Garden” is Beautiful and Profoundly Moving

Review by Nathan Top of “The Secret Garden”: CCM Musical Theatre

Written by Lucy Simon and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman, “The Secret Garden” is a large-scale musical based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 book of the same name. The story centers on the recently orphaned ten year-old Mary Lennox, who is sent to live with her reclusive widower uncle, Archibald Craven, whom she has never met. After hearing stories of a hidden garden which belonged to Archbald’s late wife, Lily, Mary makes it her mission to bring new life to the garden, as well as her uncle and sickly cousin. The original Broadway production was a huge success, nominated for seven and winning three of them, including Best Book of a Musical.

If for no other reason, audiences should get tickets to see the work of guest director and choreographer Connor Gallagher, whose credits include a new adaptation of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and the Broadway hit “Beetlejuice.” The choreography in “Garden” is simultaneously haunting and moving, juxtaposing the stage’s world of the living with the wistful waltzing ghosts of the past.

Scenic designer Joshua E. Gallagher has built a large world of a set, which feels appropriately harsh and heavy. The mansion on stage feels like a maze, reflecting the confusing and painful journey the characters embark on through the show. Other major contributors to the nostalgic atmosphere of the show are costume designer Dean Mogle, wig and make-up designer Marnee Porter, and lighting designer Evan Carlson, who allow the actors to magically enter and exit as ghosts and memories, often at the same time.

“The Secret Garden” has an exceptionally beautiful score and seeing a production that can do justice to the material is a rare opportunity. Music director Jeremy Robin Lyons has assembled a professional pit of CCM students and the vocals are consistently knocked out of the park. Starring as the show’s primary protagonist Mary is Zoe Mezoff, whose nuanced performance captures both the humor and heartbreak of her layered character. Opposite Mezoff is Madison Hagler as Mary’s uncle Archibald Craven, whose duet with Sam Pickart as Dr. Neville Craven on “Lily’s Eyes” is the best moment of the show. Anna Chase Lanier and Kurtis Bradley Brown, playing siblings Martha and Dickon, both steal the show with their respective solos “Hold On” and “Wick” and Delaney Guyer as Lily lands the emotional high of the show with “Come to My Garden.” “The Secret Garden” is a monumental work and every member of the cast is on-point for their role in CCM’s production, which runs now through March 8th. Get your tickets here.

Reviewer Nathan Top is a CCM alum, musician, and playwright.