BROOKSVILLE — A classic piece of English children's literature, The Secret Garden is among author Frances Hodgson Burnett's most popular novels. With several film and stage adaptations, its 1991 musical adaptation, written by Marsha Norman with music composed by Lucy Simon, was met with critical acclaim, snatching up three Tony Awards.
The musical is considered difficult to perform, with intricate music that goes practically nonstop for 2 1/2 hours. In fact, most amateur theater groups opt to use recorded soundtracks.
However, the Live Oak Theatre Company has taken on a more challenging quest, presenting the show with a live orchestra. The production opens today at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church and continues weekends through May 7.
The show features powerful songs, such as Lily's Eyes, The Girl I Mean to Be, Round-Shouldered Man, Come to My Garden and How Could I Ever Know.
"I've been in love with this music since it came out," said director Randi Hoidalen Olsen, who is also Live Oak's artistic director. "The music is beautiful and complex."
Olsen said the show is an excellent fit for Live Oak, featuring four lead roles for youth (two children and two teenagers). She said Live Oak's philosophy is providing family-friendly musical productions that allow the adult performers to guide and mentor young performers.
The lead role of Mary is double-cast, with Elizabeth Kessel, 11, and Emma Day, 10.
"Mary is a substantial role," Olsen said. "They have to sing and speak with a British accent, and they are on stage 95 percent of the show. … It is a lot of responsibility."
The Secret Garden is the story of young Mary Lennox, an unloved and unpleasant child whose parents die of cholera while living in India. Mary is sent to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven (Terry Edwards), a hunchback still mourning the death of his wife, Lily (Stephanie Barnett Sager/Randi Olsen). There, she meets her bedridden cousin, Colin (Elijah Torres/Christopher Alexander), who is cared for by Archibald's brother, the smothering Dr. Neville Craven (Jason Yungmann). Mary finds a forgotten and neglected garden that she is determined to fix up and bring back to life, with the help of the kindhearted and gentle Dickon (Benjamin Staley).
The show also features Holly Frendburg and Caitlin Frostman as Mary's maid, Martha; Ron Dykes as the gardener, Ben Weatherstaff; Mahle Truitt as Rose, Mary's mother; and Julie Hofstede as Mrs. Medlock, who is in charge of the servants.
An ensemble of children will function as the garden.
"They look adorable," Olsen said.
As with all Live Oak productions, dessert will be served with the show, with tables set around a thrush stage.