Singers living states, even continents apart, worked feverishly for months to learn the intricate and gorgeous score of The Secret Garden for Manhattan Concert Productions’ 25th Anniversary presentation at Lincoln Center in New York. Just three days prior to opening night at David Geffen Hall, ensembles from across the United States and Australia gathered to rehearse for the two-night only event. Countless hours were spent perfecting, unifying, and directing the energy of the chorus, which was enthusiastically received by an audience of more than 5,000 people. The power of more than 200 voices and a 28-piece orchestra allowed the audience to hear the score like they never will again.
I count myself very fortunate to have been one of those voices.
It’s rare to be part of a concert featuring so many of Broadway’s best (including Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, Cheyenne Jackson, and Sydney Lucas), and even more uncommon to have such a large chorus supporting them. Manhattan Concert Productions is unique in creating this atmosphere of collaboration with students and professional artists. This level of talent and commitment brought by every single person — cast, crew, chorus, musicians, producers, and creative team — was acknowledged by the roaring approval of the audience.
Most of the focus during the fifteen hours of rehearsal centered on the dynamics and texture within the music. But director Stafford Arima also integrated small, yet effective moments of choreography and blocking to enhance the story. Arima frequently said, “Vowels make you feel; consonants make you understand,” and emphasized what a special privilege it is to be able to sing; a gift not given to all. The simple yet powerful coaching amplified the chorus’ determination to tell the story not only with our bodies, but also with our voices.
On the evening before the concert, the chorus was able to sit down with the principal cast for a Q&A session. Listening to the stories and experiences that led them to the Broadway stage helped strengthen and validate my own dream of one day moving to New York to pursue a professional career. They emphasized the importance of being true to who you are and allowing negative comments to motivate instead of eliminate your dreams. One cast member said, “Be bold. If you are going to fall, fall hard and in rehearsal.” I’ve heard the saying “Go big or go home” about a dozen times, but it’s so much more influential to hear the same underlying principle come from those I highly respect. It reminded me of just how much fun playing within the creative process is, and if you aren’t “falling” at least few times, then you need to go bigger.
It takes bravery, no doubt, but that is the beauty of art. I cannot think of one successful person—in theatre, art, or the world in general—who played it safe. Even Mary Lennox would not have found unity and love restored without boldly reviving the garden, defying Dr. Craven, and pushing Colin to health. Another piece of advice from a cast member was, “Don’t waste your time not being you.” Most struggle with jealousy and self-loathing, but what makes you you is exactly what the world is in need of. From this short time with the cast, I walked away with a whole page of quotes that I reflect on after every audition in which I don’t get called back or cast. Beyond the theatre, I’m learning to apply this attitude to my everyday life.
I became very familiar with The Secret Garden, particularly over the last year. In March of 2015, I played the role of a dreamer at a local community theater. Exactly eleven months later, I was again a dreamer, but this time in the mentoring experience of the Manhattan Concert Productions’ 25th anniversary concert at Lincoln Center. I am now working on my third production — which also happens to be a concert rendition — in which I will be playing the Ayah. Though I seem to be stuck in the ‘maze’ of The Secret Garden frequently, I do not mind one bit because it is a story in which I evolve with every song, every night. “Hold On” for instance has really brought me the needed strength to persevere through my “storms.”
This opportunity is one I will never forget just like the world will never forget the impact of The Secret Garden. Twenty-five years later, this story of perseverance continues to reach audiences worldwide. Each night, no matter where the stage is located, this story extends a bright, blossoming gift of hope, strength, and friendship. Through song and story, we learn from little Mary Lennox that we are strong enough.
Photo: The Secret Garden, produced by Manhattan Concert Productions. Credit: Kevin McCormick.