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‘The Secret Garden’ children’s story performed in April in Mesa

Posted 3/24/23

Places! Productions will bring to life the mystical, magical garden from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s story with “The Secret Garden,” performing April 6-8 at …

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‘The Secret Garden’ children’s story performed in April in Mesa


Places! Productions will bring to life the mystical, magical garden from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s story with “The Secret Garden,” performing April 6-8 at East Valley High School and April 13-16 at the Mesa Arts Center. The show is performed by a youth cast comprised of performers ages 8-18 as well as a community cast featuring kids and adults of all ages.

A musical reimagining of the classic tale by the same name, “The Secret Garden” is a heartwarming story of growth and redemption replete with ghosts, magic and intrigue. Set in the early 1900s, the story follows a young girl, Mary Lennox, who is left orphaned by a cholera epidemic and sent to live with her hermit uncle at his secluded country manor in Yorkshire.

“I play a reclusive, depressed Englishman who is haunted by the memories of his late wife, Lily, while also grieving the inability to have a relationship with his ailing son, Colin,” said Eddie Kesner of Mesa, who plays the role of Mary’s uncle, Archibald Craven, in the community cast. “Through the unfolding of the story, we experience heartbreak, hope and healing.”

Eddie shares the stage with his 12-year-old daughter, Chloe. She was cast as Claire, a Dreamer, one of a chorus of ghosts who shepherd Mary as she struggles to recover from the tragedy of losing her parents.

“I am a Dreamer, who is more or less a ghost who moves the story along from scene to scene through song and dance,” said Chloe. “As a soprano, I get to sing very high in almost every song. That’s my favorite!”

“As director, I always begin my process by going back to the source material,” said Allison Houston, director of “The Secret Garden” and founding artistic director of Places! “The novel is very different from the musical, especially the concept of ‘The Dreamers.’ They are crucial in the storytelling of the musical, and we’ve incorporated them into several additional moments as Mary remembers her past and finds purpose and belonging in this new chapter of her life that the musical portrays.”

When Mary discovers her late Aunt Lily’s hidden garden, locked and overgrown, she is determined to restore its beauty. Guided by the Dreamers and with the help of Dickon, the first person on the estate to befriend Mary, she strips away the sadness that engulfs the household. Through the garden, Mary also helps Archibald and Colin confront the grief that has long cast a shadow over their lives.

The role of Dickon is played by 14-year-old Ayden Iwan of Mesa.

“Dickon is a kid who is very in tune with nature and is very free-spirited,” said Ayden. “The music is very difficult and Dickon’s accent is hard to grasp, but I love a challenge.”

Ayden and other cast members worked with a dialect coach to refine their Yorkshire accents. It’s part of Houston’s effort to get all of the details right for this production. The cast is also working hard to perfect the production’s soaring musical numbers, including “Lily’s Eyes,” “How Could I Ever Know” and “Girl I Mean to Be.”

“This is one of the most beautiful scores I’ve ever heard,” said Houston. “I think it’s impossible to not be moved by the music.”

Added Chloe, “My favorite part of the rehearsal process is working with fabulous singers and seeing the entire show come together.”

For Eddie and Chloe, this show is extra special.

“I wanted to participate in this show because it would be a fun experience for my dad and me,” said Chloe.

Added Eddie, “My favorite part about this show is performing alongside my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working with everyone in the cast, but looking over at my daughter during a scene or hearing her voice pierce through during a musical number brings me great joy. These are moments that I cherish and will always share with her.”

For Ayden, “The Secret Garden” is an opportunity to hone his craft while building friendships.

“I love getting to hang out with all of my friends, while creating something pretty cool,” he said.

As opening night draws near, the cast and directors are eagerly anticipating the audience’s response.

“I’m beyond proud of all of the actors who have worked so far out of their comfort zones,” said Houston. “The cast is made up of both actors with long resumes and several making their stage debuts. Each actor is bringing something so special to this production.”

“I think audiences will like the fun characters and amazing story,” said Ayden. “I am so proud of all the hard work everyone has put into this show.”

Added Eddie, “I think audiences will love the story of rebirth and transformation, the sweet musical ballads and powerful ensemble numbers, and, most importantly, the talented cast and fantastic direction!”

“The Secret Garden” features a script and lyrics written by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman and a score composed by Grammy winner and Tony nominee Lucy Simon.

Tickets for the April 6-8 run of “The Secret Garden” at East Valley High School are $15. Tickets for the April 13-16 performances at the Mesa Arts Center are $17. Matinee and evening performances are available. Discounts are offered for teachers, seniors, veterans, first responders and students. Group discounts are also available. Purchase tickets at placesproductionsaz.com.