BY JENNIFFER WARDELL
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL — This isn’t “The Secret Garden” you remember from your childhood.
The musical, which runs now through May 18 at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, shifts the focus of the beloved story from childhood friendship to the lingering pull of the dead on the living. The result is a haunting, beautifully sung but sometimes muddled tale of grief and love that stretches beyond the veil.
The musical technically follows the plotline of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, but it places far more attention on Mary’s Uncle Archibald and invents a brother for him. Several ghosts also get a great deal of stage time, either in songs with the living characters or snippets from their lives before they died. The friendship of Mary, Dickon and Colin doesn’t disappear entirely, but it’s now only about half the story.
The result is an often-impressionistic montage, tied together with a great deal of symbolism. The dream-like quality suited the play’s thoughtful examination of grief and healing, letting the emotions come through without bogging them down in plot details. Director Jim Christian also used it to occasionally chilling effect, such as the opening cholera scene and one particular night sequence with the ghosts.
Unfortunately, that same dream-like quality meant that the play was fairly confusing. The first scene in the second act has no real explanation, and there were two separate occasions when I thought the musical was implying a character’s death only to see them pop up alive again in the next scene. It also helps to check the song list frequently, since the list of who’s singing will help you sort out some of the characters.
Others, however, stand out all on their own. Tom Nelson was particularly charming as Dickon, as was Jessica Surprenant as his sister Martha. Both provided welcome notes of light and humor at several key points in the play.
Collectively, the cast features the best voices I’ve ever heard in a CenterPoint production. All of the performers have strong, clear voices, and some of the lead performers are truly outstanding. The best was Brett Johnson, who managed to sing powerfully while still making every line resonate with emotion.
Even here, though, there were challenges. Several of the songs with multiple singers required each performer to sing entirely different lyrics at exactly the same time. When three or more singers do this at once, the resulting song was stirring crash of song that cared more about feelings than clarity.
It was a good metaphor for the play as a whole.
For tickets or more information, call 801-298-1302 or visit centerpointtheatre.org.