Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - February 28, 2014

Civic Arts makes 'Secret Garden' bloom

Young actors take to the stage in 'splendid' musical

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

When 11-year-old Mary Lennox, an English girl born and raised in India, is orphaned by a cholera outbreak, she returns to Yorkshire to live with her reclusive uncle and invalid cousin. At their mysterious Misselthwaite Manor, Mary's personality blossoms along with the wondrous neglected garden.

This beloved children's tale, "The Secret Garden," comes to life tonight through March 9 at the Firehouse Arts Center in the hands of the Pleasanton Civic Arts Stage Company in partnership with Bay Area Children's Theatre.

"It is a challenging, beautiful and unique show, which was written with a complete musical score and movement ensemble," said director Rachel Robinson. "It has been a joy to watch the actors grow. They have developed a sense of physicality and focus that is nuanced and advanced. And the principal characters have risen to the challenge of speaking with dialects and memorizing long monologues."

The production has two alternating casts, with young actors from Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, San Ramon, Danville and Castro Valley. Robinson noted that the actors are not only engaged with the work but are supportive of each other.

"It is always a pleasure to watch their work on stage," she said, "but, in this instance, it has also been a joy to see their off-stage interaction -- counterparts helping each other with blocking, older actors showing the younger ones where to make an entrance, the full company sitting together to watch the scene that is taking place on stage.

"It has been an ideal environment in which to work," Robinson continued, "and I credit a great deal of our onstage success to the fact that we have such a positive and energized company."

"The Secret Garden" is suitable for all ages, with its story of forgiveness and renewal, incorporating the themes of love and friendship, family and parenting, childhood and adolescence.

The childhood classic, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, has been adapted for TV, films and the stage. When the musical opened on Broadway in 1991, it won three Tony Awards, and USA Today called it "a splendid, intelligent musical ... all you can hope for in children's theater. But the best surprise is that this show is the most adult new musical of the season."

"The Secret Garden" is the final show of the inaugural season of the new collaboration between BACT and Pleasanton's Civic Arts Stage Company.

"It has been such a pleasure to watch this season of Civic Arts Stage Company unfold," said Mark Duncanson, who coordinators the program for the city. "I have been a huge fan of Bay Area Children's Theatre's educational approach to the theatrical process with our young performers."

"I have seen these young performers grow, and 'growth' is the perfect theme to close the season on with the wonderful story of 'The Secret Garden,'" he added.

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