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“The Secret Garden” blossoms at EOU

Musical adaptation of “The Secret Garden” blossoms at EOU

Contact: Kenn Wheeler | Associate Professor of Theatre
541-962-3318 | kwheeler@eou.edu

May 8, 2013

Photo by Mike Kennedy / Marina Kennedy, right, plays Mary Lennox in EOU’s production of “The Secret Garden.” Elijah Mugrage, center, plays Mary’s cousin Colin Craven, and Brian Moore plays her friend Dickon.

LA GRANDE, Ore. (EOU) – When Frances Hodgson Burnett sat at her writing desk in New York City in the spring of 1911 and began to pen her famous children’s novel, she probably never dreamed that more than 100 years later a musical version of her book would be staged by a university theatre program in northeast Oregon.

An adaptation of Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” is opening at Eastern Oregon University May 15. The final main stage production of the year continues through May 18 with nightly showings at 7 and a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. All performances are in McKenzie Theatre in Loso Hall.

Kenn Wheeler, production director and associate professor of theatre at EOU, spoke about his desire to direct this particular musical.

“’The Secret Garden’ was the first production my wife and I saw on Broadway,” Wheeler said. “It was 1992, and we were working in upstate New York. Over the course of one day, we drove four hours to the city, found the theatre, saw the show and drove back to the Adirondack Mountains to our summer job.”

“The whole experience was unforgettable,” Wheeler continued. “We were able to see nearly the entire original cast and the show blew me away. We were laughing one instant and crying the next. From that moment on, I wanted to direct my own production of this amazing musical. And now I finally have the chance.”

“The Secret Garden” tells the story of 10-year-old Mary Lennox, played by Marina Kennedy, who is orphaned when her parents die from cholera while in India. She is sent to live in northern England with her brooding uncle Archibald Craven, played by Rick Mugrage, where she finds herself abandoned in his gloomy Misselthwaite manor with nothing to do and no one to play with.

While exploring the grounds, Mary discovers a “secret” garden closed off to the outside world. Archie’s wife Lily, played by Emily Smith, died 10 years earlier and in his grief Archie ordered the garden locked, never to be opened again.

With the help of new friends Martha, played by Caitlin Burke, and Dickon, played by Brian Moore, Mary sets out to find a way into the garden. She also learns, after following a crying voice late one night, that she has a cousin named Colin Craven, played by Elijah Mugrage, who is bedridden and seemingly destined to die.

Through the course of the musical, Mary discovers and recovers the dead garden, helps her cousin regain his health, and eventually helps her uncle put his grief behind him and face a future with his son.

Others living at Misselthwaite manor include Archie’s brother Dr. Neville Craven, played by Joshua Gilman, head housekeeper Mrs. Medlock, played by Julia Cieslak, head gardener Ben Weatherstaff, played by Kenn Wheeler, a nurse played by Kelsy Carson, and a maid, played by Bryn McLaughlin.

Rounding out the cast is group known as “The Dreamers.” These are characters from Mary’s past who died of the cholera but whose ghosts are helping her find her way. They include her mother Rose, played by Brittanie Sorenson, her father Albert, played by Jonathan Phipps, her nursemaid, played by Adraine Jacobs, Major Holmes, played by Griffin Fleming, his wife Claire, played by Becca Butler, Major Shelley, played by Caleb Hulsey and his wife, Mrs. Shelley, played by Mallory Livingston, Lieutenant Wright, played by Israel Bloodgood, Lieutenant Shaw, played by Ari Bloodgood, Rose’s friend Alice, played by Samantha Ragsdale, and an Indian Fakir played by Shahayla Ononaiye.

Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman adapted the script and Lucy Simon composed the music.

Michael Heather, assistant professor of theatre, designed the scenery and lighting for EOU’s production. Senior theatre major Alex Uemura is in charge of costuming, and La Grande dance instructor Ashly Braden created the choreography.

Jamie Jacobson, adjunct music instructor, taught the musical numbers to the performers with Mio Aoike serving as rehearsal accompanist. Teun Fetz, associate professor of music, is conducting the orchestra.

Senior theatre student Adam Lindberg is the stage manager, with Kelsy Carson, Bryn McLaughlin and Maia Turner serving as assistant stage managers.

Tickets to “The Secret Garden” are $15 for general admission and $10 for students, senior citizens, veterans and active military members.

Special ticket pricing is also available for families. For each general admission ticket purchased, one child aged 12 or younger will be admitted for $5.

“We really want people to bring the whole family out to this outstanding show,” Wheeler said.

To reserve tickets call 541-962-3757 or visit the theatre box office in Loso Hall. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1-2 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 1-4 p.m. on Friday. Tickets may also be purchased online at www.ticketpeak.com/eou.

Reduced admission for children under 12 is only available when purchasing general admission tickets through the box office, not online.