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The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden
Corn Stock Theatre

July 10 - 18

By Stan Strickler

In my email I get countless offers to see Broadway in Chicago, but one doesn’t need to go to Chicago to see Broadway caliber entertainment, for “The Secret Garden” which opened Friday night at Corn Stock is Broadway caliber and then some. It is a beautiful production with great singing, wonderful dancing, and an emotional story line that moves the audience. While this musical is not as well known as many others, it deserves a sold out audience every night especially in this production.

The story, based on a a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, takes place in the early 1900’s and revolves around Mary Lennox, a young girl living in India with her parents. Her family is killed in a cholera epidemic and she is sent to England to live with her widowed uncle Archibald Craven, and man so overcome by grief for his dead wife that he has retreated from the world. Mary soon discovers a locked garden created by Lily Archibald’s late wife and when she enters she discovers it in disrepair and dead. Through the help of Dickon, a brother of one of the servants, the garden is restored and as it is restored the entire family is brought back to life.

Bart Shatto as Archibald is a real life Broadway actor who has come back to his hometown to take on the role of Archibald, and his performance alone is worth the price of admission. His voice is beautiful and his duet with Mike Reams who plays his brother is certainly a show-stopper as they sing about their mutual love for Lily in the haunting song “Lily’s Eyes.” As talented an actor as Bart is though, the show would not be much if the rest of the cast were lacking. That is not the case here as everyone in the cast rises to the occasion and delivers a Broadway caliber performance.

This play would not succeed had there not been three outstanding young actors in the cast. Faustina Hoerdeman brings a feistiness and determination to her role of Mary Lennox. She has a wonderful strong voice and a fine stage presence. Tyler Smith as the rather strange and mysterious Dickon sings beautifully, dances with style, and plays his role very well. And Kaden Micklos as Colin, the sickly and mysterious son of Archibald, brings a strong voice and acting ability to his role. The other adults in the cast are also outstanding especially Katy Speiden as Lily with her wonderful operatic voice. Never have I heard a ghost sing so beautifully and hauntingly.

Not only is the singing and acting superb, but the dancing is also beautiful to behold. Tamara Challacombe with assistance from Puja Mittal have created beautiful dances both in the ballet like sequences and the Indian dances which seem very traditional, and not in the Bollywood style as seen so much today. The ballet sequences performed by Aaron Elwell and Pauline Parkhurst are really exquisite and moving.

The play of course is shrouded in mystery and a dreamlike quality as so much of it takes place in the characters’ minds. Therefore the set is rather minimal but functional allowing the audience to create its own pictures. The smoke and lighting effects add greatly to the dreamlike quality of the show. Even the garden that is revealed at the end of the show is created in the audience’s mind. However a real secret garden is created outside thanks to DA Hoerr Nursery and it serves as the secret garden of the show. Arrive early enough to appreciate it.

While this show is not as well known as many others it has a beautiful haunting score that is at times operatic. Written by Lucy Simon, sister of Carly Simon, it contains many beautiful songs. And the orchestra conducted by Andrea Molina plays them superbly. All in all this is a show not to be missed and I hope that it is held over so that more people can see a truly beautiful, moving production full of great singing, beautiful dancing, and a truly emotional story acted in true Broadway performances. Pam Orear is to be commended for directing such a beautiful production.

The Secret Garden continues through Saturday, July 18 at 7:30 pm each night at Corn Stock's main tent in upper Bradley Park. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students 18 & under and are available at the box office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at

Posted on July 12, 2015