Theatre Calgary’s season blooms to a beautiful close with the musical The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel the Secret Garden has been a much-loved story and extremely popular with both children and adults since its publication in 1911.

This story about a young girl, Mary Lennox, who is orphaned in India and sent to live with family in England, explores themes of belonging, loss, family and healing and is one that still resonates today with modern audiences.

Theatre Calgary, in grand fashion, is presenting this timeless tale as a musical for their final performance of the season with an 18-person ensemble and an amazing set to help transport the audience to this magical place, with the feel for the show, the story and emotion being largely driven by the music.

Allison Lynch and Laura Brandt are both actors and musicians with classical training who play key roles in the story and who, through narrative and song, help to guide the audience through this lyrical journey. For Lynch, who is known for her jazz singing as well as her ability to tackle all sorts of genres including, most recently, a folk/pop performance in a production of Once, the opportunity to use her classical training is quite welcome.

“The music is quite difficult in this show and also it’s harmonically quite complex, (so) it’s nice to be able to do shows that ask different things of you vocally, because then I get to work on those parts of my voice,” she says, adding, “(The music is) really quite beautiful, so it’s interesting because it kind of has something for the real hardcore musical theatre-style lovers, and for the people who enjoy the classical kind of almost operatic style of singing. It melds those two really well.”

To that point, enter Brandt who, coming from a strictly classical background in the world of opera, also finds the transition to musical theatre exciting and slightly challenging.

“There’s a lot of overlap,” she says, “but one of the biggest differences is the amount of shows you do. In musical theatre we do eight shows a week and four or five weeks of shows versus the opera world (where the) run is three, maybe four shows.”

She adds that the challenge for her is how to pace herself and keep her voice for that duration of time. Being able to use a mic for her performance helps, and is also a key difference for her with regards to how exactly to project her voice. “I’ve started playing around with that in the rehearsal room, still trying to keep my sound and keep it free without it sort of making it small.”

In this production Lynch and Brandt play sisters, Rose Lennox and Lily — both having passed away years ago, but who interact through flashbacks and in their ghostly form to communicate with and guide the living characters of the play, specifically the main character of Mary, played by Greer Hunt.

“A lot of (the ensemble) also function as the dreamers – the spirits of the past who kind of help facilitate Mary’s discovery of the garden,” explains Lynch, who’s character is Mary’s mother, Rose. “Mary grows so much over the course of the show, but the dreamers are there as her supports and her guides … it’s really interesting to move as a company and be an ensemble in our support of this little girl.”

The story itself begins quite dark, with Mary’s parents having died and then her being sent away to live with an uncle, Archie (Eric Craig), who is mourning for his wife (Brandt’s character, Lily) and her cousin, Colin, (Lucien-River Mirage Chauhan), who has been locked away in a wheelchair. Throughout the story we see a sort of metamorphosis of the scene and the characters as they discover and build relationships with both the living and the deceased, coming to a better emotional place.

Brandt describes the setting and her character’s role. “For these past 10 years everything’s kind of been shut down: the curtains have been shut, Colin’s been locked away, and then Mary arrives and they start to reinvigorate the garden and life in the manor … I’m always there trying to connect with Archie as well as with Colin, my son, so as the show goes on I am able to actually make these points of contact with them.

“Similarly, there’s a scene at the end with Archie, where he’s been tormented for 10 years and is just spiralling deeper and deeper into darkness, and so when he’s at his lowest point right near the end of the show, I show up and we finally have this moment of forgiveness and connection.”

Obviously the music is a huge part of the production, serving to steer the emotion and atmosphere of the show, as well as help to tell the story, which Lynch feels can be attributed to artistic director, Stafford Arima. “I think the music does a good job of reflecting the emotional state that everybody’s in,” she states, before adding, “In rehearsal (Arima) was saying that we don’t need to infuse the lines with emotion, we need to just say them as they are, the reality of them, because the music and the words just by themselves are enough to really show an audience, to help the audience to feel what the characters are feeling.”

Whether or not you are familiar with the story, Theatre Calgary’s production of The Secret Garden promises to be a magical, emotional, musical journey that is the perfect way to round off their 2017/18 season. It runs in the Max Bell Theatre until May 19.

(L-R Laura Brandt & Allison Lynch. Photo: Trudie Lee)

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at