WESTFIELD, NJ — What happens when orphaned child Mary Lennox is sent from India to England to live with her estranged Uncle Archibald Craven, a physically deformed man living in sadness in a house that just might be haunted? And what happens to Mary during her stay with Uncle Archibald?
The answers lie in “The Secret Garden,” the “spring version” of the musical production produced by Sara Hedgepeth and Julie Fetter of Hedgehog and Feather Theatre Co., an organization based in Westfield and founded in 2006 by artistic directors Hedgepeth and Fetter. In addition to their productions, they offer after-school classes, summer camps and one-day workshops.
“The Secret Garden” is based on the original childrens’ book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and this musical was created for stage with book and lyrics by Marsha Norma, writer of the popular dramatic play, “Night Mother,” and with music by Lucy Simon, daughter of the Simon & Schuster book publishing empire and sister to musician Carly Simon. The musical is produced through special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.
“It’s been a show in the vault,” said Hedgepeth, also the director. The Westfield resident first saw it performed on Broadway in 1991 with Fetter. “It’s a great story about family, renewal, healing … a timeless story.”
The play won’t be performed in traditional stage, but rather a thrust stage, which means the audience will surround the stage on three sides. Theatrics will include sophisticated puppetry and shadow scenery.
Hedgepeth noted that, even though the play is based on a childrens’ book, it has something for everyone, including boys and seniors – not just young girls.
Choreographer and actor Ty Jacobs added that “The Secret Garden” is ideal for families because of the recurring theme of family and belonging, “which is relevant and present throughout the show,” he said. “The concept of death is touched upon, as well, and it is dealt with tenderly and carefully from the perspective of young Mary Lennox.”
“There’s humor, fun, dancing and a lot of little moments, such as when Mary is talking with the robin character, which is a puppet. Kids will love that,” said Jacobs.
Hedgepeth and Fetter agreed that the show is ideal for children who are at least eight, so that they can fully comprehend the situations, such as death and renewal, as well as to be able to follow the story.
This production is brand new, from a 2010 score, but re-vamped for a shorter production that lasts 70 minutes.
Jacobs plays the role of Archibald, and according to the actor, Craven has “his own bag of beans to deal with,” as he was born with scoliosis and is still mourning his wife, who died over 10 years ago. Then, “Along comes Lily, played by professional Krista Donough.”
“And she’s gorgeous,” adds Hedgepeth.
According to Jacobs, Lily is a fine example of the power of love. “She is a beautiful woman who shows the viewer that love truly knows no boundaries and limits, and in this case, her love for a man born with a physical deformity of sorts. Lily shows us that love doesn’t judge by appearance. This brings him new life and restored sense of worth.”
Without giving away the entire story, Jacobs said, “The main concept is the analogy of the garden itself. It takes you from death through resurrection. Out of death comes life. Everybody goes through a growing thing.”
Mary is played by Emmanuelle Nadeau, 12, of Westfield. “We cast her because she could play young,” said Hedgepeth, pointing out that Mary is supposed to be only 10.
“She’s been involved with professional theatre,” added Jacobs. “She helps me stay in character. All the actors are a treat to work with.”
Jacobs, originally from Michigan, and currently working at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, has been acting in six community theatre rolls. “All leads,” he said, adding, “I’m not bragging. I’m saying I’m fortunate. I’m blessed.”
Hedgepeth’s husband, Tom Schaefer, helped work on the set, creating the proper theatrical effect. He also plays flute and rhythmic instruments during the performance. Sets and props are by Fetter, costumes by Alisa Korunow.
“We use our strengths,” said Hedgepeth. “Julie finds things [props]. She can turn something into something else. We all work together just great.”
Jacobs added, “It’s a very down-to-earth theatre company. The focus is on family and children.”
“It does not condescend to children,” Hedgepeth added, pointing out that actors of all ages are used to appropriately fit the characters. “Adults come to see our children shows. Children need good theatre.”
Hedgepeth is very excited about “Secret Garden.”
“It’s perfect to coincide with this time of year,” she said. “As the play was going through rehearsal, I said by May tenth spring will be in full bloom.”
The Secret Garden will be performed Friday, May 10, 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, May 11, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Westminister Hall, 140 Mountain Ave., Westfield. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children and seniors over 65. They can be purchased at the door or through the website, http://hedgehogandfeather.org/.