CLOTA presents stage musical of classic childhood favorite

CLOTA presents stage musical of classic childhood favoriteBy: TIMMY NEIPP II

News Review Correspondent

A modern retelling of a timeless story will be presented to local audiences beginning July 7 when “The Secret Garden” opens on the Community Light Opera and Theatre Association’s Center Stage.

Director Barbara Roberts has put together a cast of seasoned favorites and newly discovered talents to bring to life the musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 story.

The starring role of young Mary will be portrayed by Amy Ertl. After her parents (played by Phillip Randolph and Celese Sanders) die in India, she is sent to live with her Uncle Archibald Craven (played by Kevin Anderson).

Her unhappy existence is brightened by servants Martha (Beth Cosner) and Ben (Ben Bockhahn), as well as nature-whisperer Dickon (Larry Cosner IV). Other newcomers in her life include the severe Mrs. Medlock (Elizabeth Pomazal) and the strident Dr. Craven (Larry Cosner III).

In a twist on the classic, the stage version features a cast of “Dreamers” — or the deceased people from the main characters’ lives — who ocasionally appear on the scene to help carry the storyline forward and foreshadow coming events.

Roberts notes that this is the second time she has been involved in this show, since she was the assistant director when the late Sherry Parker staged it for CLOTA 22 years ago.

Roberts said she floated the idea of doing it again past several local theater regulars, “and the response was an overwhelming ‘Do it!’” said Roberts. “Getting a positive response was critical because it is a very large cast and requires many well-trained singers and actors to pull it off.”

Given the tight quarters of the Center Stage, Roberts felt that was the perfect venue. “I realized that, because ‘The Secret Garden’ is actually a very intimate show, the space would be perfect for a production.” She noted that close proximity gives the audience a chance to easily pick up the nuances in the character’s portrayals.

Challenges have included securing financial support — since musicals typically cost thousands of dollars just for rights and royalties — and months of hard work from many people.

“There have been a number of times when CLOTA could not produce a musical because a musical director was not to be found,” said Roberts. She said the show is very fortunate to have Jordan Covert, who “has been incredible!”

Other stalwart collaborators include Brianne Hardwick and Ben Bockhahn, who as assistant directors fill the roles of jacks-of-all-trades on and off scene.

“I focused a lot on helping with costumes, setting props to where they needed to be, assisting the cast with whatever they needed, such as running lines and going through choreography, and making sure Barbara was free to focus on what she wanted and needed to see and do,” said Hardwick.

Bockhahn, who has also filled many roles, had the opportunity to fine-tune his “spattering” skills while working on sets. “It’s a technique used to make a surface look weatherworn as well as a little more three-dimensional.”

“My favorite part in particular about working behind the scenes is staying hidden,” said Hardwick, “we make sure everything is as much taken care of as we can. I like to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be so most of the cast has less to worry about.”

Bockhahn likes to be unseen, much like Hardwick. “As long as we remain unseen, we’ve done our job.

“The whole point of a show is to draw the audience into a believable, observable experience and paint a picture for the audience to enjoy.  If you see any of the behind-the-scenes stuff while the production is in motion, it’s like a hole in the picture.”

Roberts loves the duet between Archibald and Dr. Craven. “‘Lily’s Eyes’ has to rank right up there with the highlights of the show. Kevin and Larry are a phenomenal pair in that song.”

Hardwick also identified that scene as her favorite.

“There is so much going on during that scene, and several musical numbers that blend into one another. “Lily’s Eyes” takes place during a storm, and Kevin and Larry do such a wonderful job with that song.  It’s nearly had me in tears several times during rehearsals.”

Roberts believes that the story, despite being written in the Victorian era, still has relevance in the modern world. She said she believes the portrayal of the parent-child relationship in the story will resonate with the audience.

Hardwick relates to the maternal figure she plays in the show. “I play Mary’s Ayah, her Indian nanny and servant, who dies of the cholera.” She, along with her Indian Fakir counterpart, are among the figures who come back to “visit” Mary when she moves into Misselthwaite Manor with her uncle.

“As a mother, and also as a mother type around the theater, I can relate to her at least a bit.  She is very compassionate and caring, making sure Mary has whatever she needs. I like to think I take care of my children like that, as well as my fellow actors.”

Roberts said she believes that the message about “The Secret Garden” is ultimately about healing. “There are a number of themes presented in ‘The Secret Garden.’ The most obvious, of course, is the healing force of nature.”

Hardwick agreed. “Through time, care, hard work, family and friends, even the worst, most desperate situations are surmountable.”

Bockhahn noted that the story also emphasizes the importance of moving forward in the face of loss and cherishing what you have.

“I think the overall message of the play is this — loss is part of life, and while it is important to recognize the full extent and severity of any loss, it is equally important to recognize and remember what you still have or you run the risk of losing that as well.”

Subsequent evening performances will be held July 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22. Doors open at 7 p.m., and “curtain” is at 7:30. A matinee will also be staged on Sunday, July 16, with doors opening at 1:30 p.m. and curtain at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available for $20 each at Red Rock Books. Center Stage is located at 1425 N. Inyo St.

Pictured: Kevin Anderson as Archibald Craven and Larry Cosner III as Dr. Neville Craven are at odds during a vocal duo from “The Secret Garden.” -- Photo by Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2017-06-30