Rehearsals are underway for a new production of Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman's The Secret Garden, scheduled to start February 19 at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre via Center Theatre Group. The run will continue through March 26, but producers have their eye on bringing the production to New York, which would give the musical its first Broadway revival.
Based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, The Secret Garden features a book and lyrics by Tony and Pulitzer winner Norman and music by Grammy winner and Tony nominee Simon. The story follows a young girl left orphaned by a cholera epidemic in British-occupied India who is sent to live with her reclusive and grieving uncle in his English country estate.
Since premiering on Broadway in 1991, the musical has gone on to become a favorite for regional theatres and schools around the world—but the original production remains iconic. Set in 1911 England, Heidi Ettinger's Tony-winning original set design placed the action in a stately mansion cum Victorian scrapbook, and Theoni V. Aldredge also received a Tony nod for hauntingly beautiful costumes.
But don't fret. Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle has put together a top-notch design team for his new production, including Emmy-winning scenic designer Jason Sherwood (RENT Live) and Tony-winning costume designer Ann Hould-Ward (Into the Woods, Beauty and the Beast). Together with the rest of the creative team, this trio is creating a Secret Garden unlike any seen before—including a wholly new character. Get a first look at some of Sherwood and Hould-Ward's designs, along with an inside look at what inspired them, below.
According to Sherwood, he took the show's ghostly quality as his chief inspiration—Norman's adaptation of the story has the ghosts of the living characters' pasts sharing the stage, a haunting reminder of the grief that has held over them.
"Misselthwaite Manor is a primary setting for the story, and we really wanted this space to have a ghostly, floating quality," says Sherwood. "In this image, the ghosts of the past are dancing through the ballroom, while pairs of chandeliers lilt and float in space, amidst a translucent staircase and frames that ascend into the void. The story often takes place in the past and the present simultaneously—as our characters contend with their pasts and their losses—and we wanted the space to have a lyrical, emotional quality that would support those moments."
Sherwood continues: "Our amazing director and choreographer Warren Carlyle and I have been designing this show together for several years. The set design is based on the idea of the elements—earth, water, fire, and air, all of which are represented in our show—and the notion of a ghost story. The Secret Garden is about regeneration, and we wanted those elements to be at the heart of the design. So, the show is framed by this sculptural swirl—which suggests a gust of air—and we populate the space with various objects to take us to different locations. In this image, we are in the garden, before it has been brought back to life. It's still dormant and has just been discovered by Mary. A large sun hangs upstage, which gently resembles the rings of a tree, casting light through the wrought-iron tree that is the symbol of the garden, and the garden door sits downstage left."
Hould-Ward's designs include a character new to this production of The Secret Garden: Cholera. See her sketch for that and other costumes in the gallery below.
As previously announced, Center Theatre Group's The Secret Garden will star Sierra Boggess as Lily Craven, Derrick Davis (The Lion King) as Archibald Craven, Ava Madison Gray as Mary Lennox at certain performances, Aaron Lazar (The Light in the Piazza) as Dr. Neville Craven, Julia Lester (Into the Woods, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) as Martha, John-Michael Lyles (A Strange Loop) as Dickon, and Sadie Brickman Reynolds as Mary Lennox at certain performances.
Rounding out the cast will be Terron Brooks as Major Shelley, Mark Capri as Ben Weatherstaff, Peyton Crim as Major Holmes, Susan Denaker as Mrs. Medlock, Kelley Dorney as Mrs. Winthrop/Cholera, Ali Ewoldt as Rose Lennox, William Foon as Colin Craven alternate, Ava Madison Gray as Mary Lennox alternate, John Krause as Captain Albert Lennox, Reese Levine as Colin Craven, Yamuna Meleth as Ayah, Cassandra Marie Murphy as Mrs. Shelley, James Olivas as Lieutenant Wright, Kyla Jordan Stone as Alice, Vishal Vaidya as Fakir, and Ariel Neydavoud, with Randi De Marco and Sam Linkowski serving as swings.
The production has been in the works for Carlyle since at least 2018, when he was announced to helm a Broadway revival in the 2018-19 season that never materialized. A 2018 workshop of Carlyle’s staging streamed in April 2021 to benefit The Dramatists Guild Foundation and The Actors Fund, featuring Boggess as Lily. The stream was dedicated to the late Rebecca Luker, who played the role in the original Broadway company.
Along with Sherwood and Hould-Ward, Carlyle's creative team will include music supervision and additional orchestrations by Rob Berman, orchestrations by Danny Troob, music direction by Dan Redfeld, lighting design by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier, and wig and makeup design by Victoria Tinsman. Casting is by Michael Donovan and Richie Ferris, and David Franklin will serve as production stage manager.