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The Secret Garden

A Best Bet from Margaret

If you aren’t camping or traveling to a music festival this weekend, Western Washington University’s production of “The Secret Garden: The Musical” might be just the ticket to wind up your summer. Based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the two-hour show runs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1-3, on WWU’s Performing Arts Center Mainstage.  Directed by the dynamic wife-and-husband team of Heather Dudenbostel and Ryan Dudenbostel, the score is at times lush and flowery and as well reminiscent of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” At one point, Ryan directs the orchestra to play “hysterically loud,” and they do (the orchestra, which performs onstage surrounded by a set of stairs and platforms, is composed of faculty, students, community members — including members of Whatcom Symphony Orchestra). The story centers on 11-year-old Mary Lennox, recently orphaned when her parents die from cholera in India, who is sent to live with her uncle in the Yorkshire moors. Mary is performed exquisitely by Isabelle Bushue, known for her singing and acting skills at Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth and community and high school theater in Whatcom County.  Mary is befriended by Dickon (Jacob Hamann), who encourages her to explore the gardens on the estate; and she eventually discovers Colin (Oceana Dunsire), the invalid son of her Uncle Archibald (Jacob Bernardo), secreted away in an upstairs room. As the three get to know each other, Mary and Colin reveal that they have constructed their own “walls,” and are “locked up” themselves, much as the secret garden itself, which has been neglected for years because it was tended by Mary’s aunt who died giving birth to Colin. Her death was devastating to Mary’s uncle, who is unable to see past his grief, but when at last the garden is open, and thrives because of Mary’s loving care, the metaphor of the possibility of emotional growth is made real. The “Greek chorus” of ghosts in the house on the hill keep the story moving forward, and once again the operatic prowess of WWU students is a thrill to see. Although the characters are children, the production may be too complex for those younger than 12. For more on the show, and for a video, click here.