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Theater advance: Lovely message in 'Secret Garden' musical, with spiritual aspect hightened

Mattie June Smith as Lily and Walter Inkley as her son, Colin, in CenterPoint Legacy Theatre's "The Secret Garden."
Mattie June Smith as Lily and Walter Inkley as her son, Colin, in CenterPoint Legacy Theatre's "The Secret Garden."
Ron Russell, CenterPoint Legacy Theatre

CENTERVILLE — There's no denying the enduring appeal of one of Frances Hodgson Burnett's children’s novel.

“‘Secret Garden’ has one of the most beautiful messages, with its tales of redemption, forgiveness, love, learning and growth,” Jim Christian says. “It’s like a human garden, with people instead of plants being brought back to life.”

The enchanting classic of children's literature is re-imagined with a “lush, stunning score” of operetta-style ballads and English folk melodies, adds Christian who, as director, choreographer and music director, helms the CenterPoint Legacy Theatre production.

In the original story, 11-year-old Mary Lennox returns to England to live with her distant uncle Archibald, still grieving the death of his wife Lilly, and their invalid son Colin.

The musical version, by Tony-winning composer Lucy Simon and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman, the spiritual aspect was expanded. Mary, after asking what happens to people when they die and if they all become ghosts, is told by her uncle, "They're only a ghost if someone alive is still holding on to them." The spirits of those in the story who died are being held on this plane by those they left behind.

“It’s been thrilling for me to help the cast find all the different layers of existence that surround the play,” Christian explains. “We have people playing ghosts, characters who are learning about long-lost loved ones, people who only become part of their lives until the story begins. A lot of this is expressed in one of Lilly’s lyrics to Archie, in ‘How Could I Ever Know,’ when she says, ‘Find some new way to love me, now that we’re apart.’”

The concept of deceased family members interacting with those still living — guiding Mary to Colin's room or through the maze to a forbidden garden — has resonated with many theatergoers. There’s a more peaceful final resolution as Mary, Archie and Colin stop living in the past and discover that what they need in life is each other.

“The play is about finding new ways to love, so that when something is lost, that doesn’t mean that’s the end of love, but we need to find new expressions, new avenues for that love.”

While rehearsing the production, Christian has seen actors overcome as they have made a personal discovery related to a portion of the show.

“So many cast members have come up to me in private during the process and said thank you for doing the show, and ‘Here is my story and how it relates to “The Secret Garden.” ’ It’s been thrilling for me to see people’s hearts and minds unlock and the powerful impact performing their roles has had on them,” he says.

“We had to come up with a Kleenex budget for rehearsals, because so many people were in tears during rehearsals. It really is a lovely, touching piece.”

If you go ...

What: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s “The Secret Garden”

Where: Davis Center for the Performing Arts

When: April 22–May 18

How much: $21-$17

Tickets: 801-298-1302 or