Lucy Simon’s Secret Garden at the Arden

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Based upon the beloved 1911 children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden,a play with music, is now playing at the Arden Theatre until June 19.

With Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman and Music by Lucy Simon, it was a Broadway musical hit in its 1991 production, nominated for seven Tony Awards and winning in two categories. Lucy Simon is a well-known performer who often appeared with her sister, Carly Simon. Its musical idiom is as far from pop as one could get.

In a nutshell, the play at first seems to be a Salem witch episode transposed to Victorian times, as little Mary appears to be summoning the ghosts of her dead family. We later find out that little Mary Lennox escaped death by being put to bed while her family and their servants were being poisoned by cholera-bearing water at a party at home. The play continues with the ghost-heavy theme throughout the first half of the work. At intermission, many in the audience felt that the story wasn’t true to the novel, since Mary meets little Colin early on in the book, and their story together is what they cherished reading. In this retelling, the first hour of the work is all about ghosts and the drama between the two brothers Craven.

The production by director Terrence J. Nolen and Jorge Cousineau is novel and striking. A large set piece becomes a screen for the actions played out at the apron of the stage. A miniature set, much like a toy railroad, is used with a cameraman projecting the scenes in full view of the audience. The effect was charming and riveting.

 The cast was exemplary. Standouts among them were Jeff Coon as bipolar Uncle Archibald Craven. His youth and good looks belied the fact that he was supposed to be unattractive, even ugly. His humpback was tactfully almost unnoticeable. Mr. Coon sang with passion and conviction. At the story’s conclusion, his reuniting with his son Colin brought tears to many an eye. Kudos also to the young Baiey Ryon as Mary Lennox. At the end of the show, a birthday cake came out and we sang “Happy Birthday” to the youngster since that day was her birthday. A real trouper, working on her birthday.

Although the play seems to be more Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, liberally laced with Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, there is much to recommend this fine production.

A fascinating statement by Lucy Simon bears mention for our readers. According to Wikipedia, Lucy Simon was asked in a 2008 LGBT-based publication about the possibility of a performance in the True Colors Tour. She responded, "The part that I could be involved in is the gay and lesbian part. The part that would be hard for me is to commit to a tour, because I'm not very comfortable being onstage. But the part that would be easiest for me would be singing on behalf of all of us. I don't consider myself to be not gay… I've enlarged all of my possibilities. I have a lot of extremely personal stories to tell about that, but we won't go into that right now. Let's just say that it just depends upon who I'm with." Interesting stuff, that.

For more information about The Secret Garden, visit


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