November 5th, 2007 | by Stephen Marc Beaudoin News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

"Garden" Not Yet Fully Grown

     
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Is Portland in need of a professional resident musical theatre company? Does it have the resident talent to sustain one?

Staged!, Portland's newish self-described “musical theatre series,” does not make the best case for either item in its revival of the company's 2005 semi-staging of The Secret Garden.

Based on the beloved Frances Hodgson Burnett novel of the same name, Secret Garden arrives awash in pastel-color music and a sprawling, sea-wide plot. It does not always present itself clearly, and rarely knows when to stop. It takes a few musical numbers to understand what exactly is going on. And I've seen the show before.

The Secret Garden throws out fistfuls of challenges for a young company: accents from up and down the British Isle, singerly theatre music, an inert plot. Several of director Sarah Jane Hardy's decisions did not help things along. Colin, the young boy convinced by doctors of a mysterious handicap, calls out in a moment of acute anguish: “I'm selfish because I'm DYING!” The audience cracks up.

I also took note of the production's dull and unimaginative playing space—the 10-piece orchestra (bravo to that) sprawled across the stage with a few stairs and a raised platform thrown in. And then I was surprised to read in the program book that it took three designers to come up with that concept.

I'm not sure Staged! is ready for serious critical appraisal. It still seems to be working out the kinks. It's also, in an increasingly crowded Portland semi-pro theatre scene, working hard to attract an audience.

The performers do variable work with challenging material. Of note among the large Portland-based company were Todd Tschida's charming and well-sung Dickon and Meredith Weber's buoyant Martha. As child actors go, 12-year-old Roxanne Stathos is a sprightly and confident Mary Lennox. Subbing in for that legendary Gresham beauty Katie Harman, in the dramatically thankless role of ghost-soprano Lily, Amy Jo Halliday floated about amiably.

Up next for Staged! is a new production of Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori's 1998 Off-Broadway musical, “Violet.”

(photo above: from the Staged! production of The Secret Garden. Courtesy stagedpdx.org)
 
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