Perrysburg Musical Theatre (PMT) will kick off their 2024 season with The Secret Garden, the musical adaptation of the classic children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A story of magic, darkness, new growth and catharsis, The Secret Garden is a haunting tale of grief and forgiveness that isn’t often put on by community theater. But with the help of talented and varied Director Jess Dougherty, PMT is confident in breathing new life into the tale.
A whimsical twist
This production of The Secret Garden is Dougherty’s directorial debut with Perrysburg Musical Theatre. Thrilled to have the opportunity to work with PMT, Dougherty acknowledged the level of talent and professionalism she witnessed attending Sweeney Todd the previous year. “It’s a rare gem in community theater to find that level of professionalism. I was blown away and knew I needed to be a part of it somehow.” Secret Garden is a bucket list show and a childhood favorite of Dougherty’s. “It made me believe in magic longer than I should have as a little girl. I was absolutely obsessed with it.”
To put her own unique twist on the classic, Dougherty intends to marry her love of puppetry with the musical. “It’s a little unorthodox to include puppets in The Secret Garden but I think I’ve found a way to do it.” Otherwise her directorial style is to lean into simplicity and be clever with the setting and time. “I like to set limits for myself so that I can be even more creative with what’s left,” Dougherty explained.
The Secret Garden is also unique in that the age variance of the cast is large. Two of the main characters are children aged 10 while the adult roles can range anywhere from 20 to 70. Dougherty sang the praises of the entire cast but the kids in particular, she noted, were quite impressive. “Both of the main kids have exceptional voices, and they know how to tell a story with a song.”
A dream role
Amber Wilkes, who plays Lily, the dead wife of Archibald Craven, loved the music of Secret Garden for a long time. When the chance came of being able to fulfill a dream role, she knew that despite needing a break after a busy year in theater with leading Sunday in the Park with George and playing Aquata in The Little Mermaid, she couldn’t pass up the chance.
“I was introduced to The Secret Garden in college through learning the song ‘How Could I Ever Know’ and sang it for my senior recital,” Wilkes said. “I’ve sung it for many auditions and it’s been in my back pocket ever since.”
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When asked to describe the musical, Wilkes most prominently used the word beautiful. In many ways The Secret Garden is atypical from the flashy broadway soundtracks many people know. The music especially is hauntingly beautiful. Wilkes notes that the themes of the show are relatable but also are a little deeper than your average musical. “It’s really about overcoming grief and loss and finding catharsis.”
Joy of community theater
Both Wilkes and Olivia Lemkin who plays Rose, the deceased mother of lead character Mary, are active in the local community theater scene and find joy in telling these stories. Wilkes says her favorite thing about being in these shows is connecting with people of all ages and maintaining those friendships. “I have many friends across many decades and doing these shows together is so much fun.”
While Lemkin has made it her mission to do a show with every local theater group in Toledo, she joined the cast because she liked the show but loves the people. “I just genuinely love the Toledo theater community and I’m happy to do shows with the same people and get to meet new people,” Lemkin said.
The Secret Garden will run Feb. 9, 10, and 11 at the Juliet Beck Auditorium at 140 East Indiana, Perrysburg, Ohio. Tickets can be purchased at: https://www.perrysburgmusicaltheatre.org/