Catasauqua Press

Sunday, October 22, 2017
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOGabrielle Vecciarelli (Mary Lennox), “The Secret Garden,” opening 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 and continuing through Oct. 22 at Civic Theatre of Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOGabrielle Vecciarelli (Mary Lennox), “The Secret Garden,” opening 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 and continuing through Oct. 22 at Civic Theatre of Allentown.

Revisit ‘Secret Garden’ at Civic

Friday, October 6, 2017 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

For director William Sanders, choosing “The Secret Garden” as Civic Theatre’s opening production for the theater’s 90th season was a no-brainer.

“Every year we try to find something that is family-friendly, then something that is fun, and then something that would be a little off the beaten path, something a little bit more cutting edge. This [‘Secret Garden’] would be family-friendly,” explains Sanders, Civic Theatre Artistic Director, of how he puts the Civic season together.

“The Secret Garden” opens at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 and continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays (and Oct. 21), through Oct. 22 at Civic Theatre of Allentown.

“The Secret Garden,” a musical based on a Victorian novel of the same name, is a well-known and beloved classic when it comes to musicals. While some might be put off by the fame and attention this piece has gotten in the past, Sanders isn’t concerned about it.

“I try not to concern myself with previous productions. It’s gratifying that it has had such fame and attention … I hope that translates to ticket sales.

“We are hoping that the show does very well at the box office and I started to get a little wary of that.

“It’s very scary to run a nonprofit theater. Trying to balance what you think people want to see with what you would like to show. It’s a balance. And I’m hoping this [‘Secret Garden’] strides both those worlds.”

While some versions of the work have had adult actors portray the children the narrative focuses on, Civic’s production will have a number of young actors starring in the lead roles, such as the lead, Gabrielle Vecciarelli (Mary Lennox).

“I honestly don’t find it any different working with young actors than I do with older actors,” says Sanders.

“Every actor, regardless of their age, needs attention in a different way and I always speak to children regardless of their age as if they were peers.

“I’ve been told by kids that have worked with me who have gone on and grown-up that they always appreciated that his children. It’s how I always wanted to be spoken to when I was a kid.”

Since much of the play takes place in nature, the Civic production includes stylistic choices to recreate that setting.

“We are hoping to accomplish most of it with lighting as we feel like these characters are stuck inside their heads and when we go to the garden the house is still very much a presence. The house being a metaphor for our bodies, the garden being a metaphor for the spirit.”

Since it’s a musical, much of the story hinges on the grand songs that carry the narrative throughout. Luckily, Sanders has brought on some talented individuals for some fantastic interpretations of the work.

“We are lucky to be blessed with a brilliant musical director, Frank Anonia, who will be conducting a 16-piece orchestra with all the original orchestrations. They had an orchestra rehearsal [recently] and it is glorious.

“We had quite a few extraordinary vocalists audition, and again, the choral music is astounding. Frank is incredible at that. It’s been a joy.”

The cast includes Gabrielle Vecciarelli, Will Morris, Nina Elias, Brian Rock, Elizabreth Stirba, Reese Diaz, Ian Higgins, Rachel Williams, Richard Director, Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, Will Windsor Ervin, Anthony Rizzuto, Stacey Higgins, Kristen Stachina, Pamela Westphal, Ryan Doncsecz, Ryan Murphy, Wendy Borst, Lorenzo Antigua, Melissa Gump, Dhruv Patel and SuAnn Chen.

Sanders hopes that “The Secret Garden” is a joy for the whole family, and presents important life lessons and ideas for younger audience members to latch on to.

“It reminds us of the goodness lurking inside of everyone and everything ... I think parents will enjoy seeing the book come to life and in a very special way.

“And I think kids [will] follow Mary’s journey and enjoy seeing, for want of a better word, an entitled spoiled brat (who can be very funny) find that she can be redeemed with a little kindness; that her life can change.”

Tickets: Civic Theater box office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943