The Secret Garden (Review)

The Carnegie's new show looks good, but the sound needs work

At The Carnegie, director Greg Procaccino, producer Joshua Steele and music director Alan Patrick Kenny have devised a Secret Garden that is good looking and difficult listening. Leading performances are fetching — especially Ty Yadzinski as a dour, bedeviled widower and Charity Farrell as the cheeky then cheerful orphan who discovers the locked garden and transforms it into a colorful, healing retreat. There’s strong supporting work from S. Elizabeth Carroll as a mothering maid and from Ernie Rowland and Tim Hein as a gardener and his nephew.

Costuming (Jim Stump) is lush and suggestive of the story’s Edwardian roots. Sets (Christopher Boone) neatly catch the atmosphere of a lonely, moor-edge English mansion. Procaccino keeps the pace brisk and makes good use of shadows and multiple levels to tell a diffuse, complicated tale with overlapping time frames, hovering ghosts and sections where characters who can’t “see” each other must sing together. Multiple changes of locale happen with minimum interruption. Lighting (Sara Watson) is moody and given to odd colors and jerky changes.

The show’s sound management (designed by Dan Lyons) seriously damages everything — it’s too loud and too shrill. Splendid conductor that he is for pace and musical color, Kenny lets his five-piece ensemble befog songs and engulf dialogue. Head-mikes worn by principal players dehumanize their dialogue into airport concourse announcements. The Carnegie’s plaster walls and domed ceiling mimic the environment of a tiled shower room, and the sound design exacerbates it.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 story and Marsha Norman’s 1991, Tony-winning literary libretto and lyrics are difficult enough to get into. Lucy Simon’s less-than-lyrical score doesn’t invite much involvement. The Secret Garden is a tough show all around.

Visually, The Carnegie has done wonders with it, although the ultimate revelation of the garden might have been handled with more pizzazz. Audibly, it’s a mess.

THE SECRET GARDEN, presented by the Carnegie Visual Performing Arts Center, continues through June 14 . Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

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