THE SECRET GARDEN, opening at Birmingham’s Village Players on May 11 for a three week-end run, shows how a famed novel for young people can be transformed into an enchanting musical for adults.
THE SECRET GARDEN is much more than a children’s story. The audience is introduced to a convoluted family history of lost loves, chances taken and not taken, mourning and renewal. The family is haunted by ghosts who appear from the past and who also constitute a kind of Greek chorus as sung by the ensemble.
Director Julie Tillotson has enthusiastically taken on the challenging task of bringing this complicated story to life. Julie praises all of her cast and crew for her success, with a special nod to her husband. Jack Tillotson is both cast and crew. He is the set designer who is responsible for devising and constructing the set. And he also plays the important role of the gardener who helps reveal the hidden garden. The Tillotsons, who are both retired, live in Royal Oak.
The musical concentrates on the adult characters, but it remains at its heart the tale of a young girl who is transported to England after the death of her parents in India. At the country estate of her uncle, she discovers truths about her background and about life itself via a locked “secret” garden.
Nina White of Grosse Pointe Park plays this pivotal role. This eighth grader, no stranger to the stage, has a list of credits that would do a much older performer proud. As an example, she says that her favorite role so far is “Scout” in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Nina attends Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park.
Andrew Sanom Fleming, another Grosse Pointe Schools student, joins Nina on stage, playing her invalid cousin. Andrew lives and goes to school (Maire Elementary) in Grosse Pointe City.
Prominent in the cast is Doug Clark of Royal Oak, who plays the young girl’s embittered uncle. Doug is currently president of the Grosse Pointe Theatre and is actively engaged in his son’s scouting. Playing his brother is Tom Shilakes, a Troy resident, who is active with the 12th Night Singers, a well-known local madrigal group.
Both brothers loved the same woman, who is now dead. But in a play with ghosts, she comes alive to both act and sing in the person of Kate E. DeBoer. A Berkley resident, Kate has a BFA from Western Michigan University and has played leads in many community theater productions.
And there are other important ghosts around, including the little girl’s departed parents, played by Beth Landry and Gary Sekerak. Gary, a Troy resident, who works at Henry Ford Hospital, says,”I hope to retire soon, allowing more time for theater involvement. ”
This production of THE SECRET GARDEN has its special romantic connection. Beth Landry, who plays the dead mother, is engaged to Tom Shilakes, who plays one of the uncles. The happy couple are both members of the 12th Night Singers, but Shilakes says “I’m so excited to finally share the stage with my amazing fiance’.”
The show will run May 11,12, 18, 19, 25, 26 at 8 p.m.; May 20 & 27 at 2 p.m. at Village Players Playhouse, 34660 Woodward, Birmignham. Cost: $19. Call 248-644-2075 or www.birminghamvillageplayers.