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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last night Mrs K and I ventured once again to Park Tudor School’s Ayres Auditorium for the preview night of Summer Stock Stage’s second show of the summer, The Secret Garden. Having seen and been much impressed by their first offering this season, Urinetown – we looked forward to attending this show. And we were not disappointed.

I must say, SSS producer/director Emily Ristine Holloway is masterful at what she does. Gathering many of the most talented area school-aged actors, singers, and dancers, and then coaxing the most superb performances out of her charges is a remarkable feat. The proof is in the production, and The Secret Garden is yet another great example of her prowess.

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Amelia Wray as Mary Lennox, and Cynthia Kauffman as her chambermaid, Martha, in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “The Secret Garden”.

The Secret Garden is the story (set in 1906) of a young girl, Mary Lennox, who after losing both her parents to cholera in India, is sent along to live at the estate of her Uncle Archibald in England. He is beset by melancholy and disturbing dreams, caused by the death of his dear wife, Lily – who happens to haunt the estate, in a friendly way. In fact, ghosts appear everywhere in the rambling home, and Mary is touched by their presence. In his dismay, Archibald has hidden away his son, Colin, and locked off his wife’s once beautiful garden. Mary discovers the boy and the magic of the garden, while facing off Archibald’s opportunist brother, and making friendly alliances with most of the household staff.

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Sally Root as Lily, and Weston LeCrone as Archibald Craven, in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “The Secret Garden”.

Amelia Wray takes the role of Mary Lennox and her star qualities sparkle in her depiction. Blessed with a full voice and a clear understanding of the acting craft, Ms. Wray seems to effortlessly handle the many levels of her character with aplomb. Weston LeCrone plays her Uncle Archibald in a marvelous portrayal, filled with emotion and a plethora of dynamic song performances. He is joined by Sally Root in the role of his deceased love, Lily. She, too, shows immense talents in her vocal and acting skills, providing some of the show’s loveliest moments. This threesome gives a powerful example of what I meant when I wrote that Ms. Holloway is a masterful director. All are very near professional quality in their skills and presentations, and all seem to have the confidence it takes to move forward in theatre endeavors.

There are many other highly-skilled cast members, to be sure. Davon Graham is impressive in his role as Archibald’s brother Neville. He partners grandly in the “Quartet” number with Archibald, Lily and Sydney Meyers as Mary’s mother Rose. Earlier, his and LeCrone’s duet “Lily’s Eyes” is a soaring rendition which stops the show. Cynthia Kauffman shows wonderful vocal and acting skills as the chambermaid, Martha; Keith Smith Jr. is exciting to watch and listen to as Martha’s magical brother, Dickon; and 5th grader Robert Hueni does a terrific job in his Summer Stock Stage debut as the hidden away son, Colin. Indeed, the entire cast of about 50 is to be congratulated on all the hard work they did which built their show into a very crowd-pleasing entertainment.

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Keith Smith Jr. as Dickon and Amelia Wray as Mary Lennox, in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “The Secret Garden”.

Music director Jeanne Bowling deserves much credit for her work here with cast and orchestra members. So does the choreography team of Brandon Comer and Cherri Jaffee, for their array of dances and staging. Aaron Wardwell provides beautiful period costuming, and set designs by Kristopher Steege work very well. Kyle Ragsdale again affords his visual art talents on the set, while Michael Moffatt’s lighting design enhances all other work.

Bottomline: Amazing voices and great direction make this a summer treasure for theatre-goers. The talents of the SSS participants are stunning and the show is a true accomplishment.

Only four chances remain to see this lovely staging of a very special show. It will only run until Sunday July 29th. Go to for all the info you need to catch these very talented young performers.

  • – Photos by Michael Camp