Performers hope to have audiences seeing double

Secret Garden is twice the delight

Grade 11 student Ellen Law plays Mary Lennox and Kyus Hicks (Grade 10) portrays Lieut. Wright during a rehearsal for the SMUS production of The Secret Garden.

This spring, Victoria’s McPherson Playhouse will present The Secret Garden — twice.

In a strange twist of fate, Ballet Victoria presents its dance version this March, while a version of the Broadway musical produced by St. Michaels University School (SMUS) opens tonight (Feb. 27).

“We plan our calendar roughly two years in advance,” said Paul Destrooper, artistic director of Ballet Victoria. He booked the theatre with no knowledge of the SMUS production, while Morgan McLeod, the new head of theatre at SMUS, had the musical in mind this summer.

It was the McPherson’s staff who first noticed the doubling up, and, while the close timing may cause some confusion, both directors are confident the shows offer different experiences.

“Ballet Victoria’s production is inspired by the play written by Michael Shamata,” Destrooper said. “We have no spoken words, but kept the essence of the story intact using dance, mime and acting.”

McLeod’s work will also be partially inspired by a previous production — he saw The Secret Garden during its original Broadway run in 1991, when he was a student at SMUS.

“If I could like it as a teenager, our students today should be able to connect to the story,” McLeod said.

As a student, McLeod was heavily involved in theatre and he wanted to make sure his first musical as a faculty member resonated.

“I wanted something that hadn’t been overdone, something challenging for the performers, and something I had a connection to,” he explained. “The Secret Garden was my top choice.”

The book version of The Secret Garden follows Mary, a newly orphaned child, as she is transplanted to a new home with her mourning uncle and invalid cousin. Destrooper has never read the famed children’s book, but seeing Shamata’s version attracted him to the story.

“I enjoyed Michael’s rendition of the story very much, particularly the creation of the mother’s ghost as an active participant in the narrative,” he said. “It was very touching.”

McLeod, whose previous theatre credits include numerous productions (as both director and performer) at the Chemainus Theatre Festival, said the musical takes some dramatic license.

“The musical gives more weight to the adult roles,” he says. “But it’s still the same story — magical and heartwarming.”

The SMUS production runs Feb. 27 to March 2, while Ballet Victoria takes over March 22 to 24 before taking its show to the mainland and up Vancouver Island. For ticket information for both shows, go to rmts.bc.ca.