The Column Online



Music by Lucy Simon
Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman

Stolen Shakespeare Guild

Annie Spurgen – Mary Lennox
Summer Stern – Mary Lennox
Lauren Morgan – Lily
Nolan Shaver – Archibald Craven
Keith Warren – Dr. Neville Craven
Jessica Peterson – Martha
Cameron Roy Hall – Dickon
William Power – Colin Craven
Barbara Catrett – Mrs. Medlock
Doug Parker – Ben Weatherstaff

Artistic Team:
Director – Clare Shaffer
Music Director – Lauren Morgan
Choreographer – Victoria Anne Lee
Stage Manager – Lee Ann Ducker
Asst. Stage Manager – Katelyn Allison
Costume Designer – Kari Makoutz
Set Designer – Jason and Lauren Morgan
Lighting Designers – Bryan Douglas and Eric Pitney
Assistant to the Lighting Designers – Julian Makoutz
Sound Designer – Jennifer Stewart
Master Carpenter – Caleb Pieterse
Props Designer – Jennifer Stewart
Props Artisan – Jean Jeske

Reviewed Performance: 4/12/2019

Reviewed by Joel Gerard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

When I was growing up, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of my favorite novels. Ten year old Mary Lennox is sent to Yorkshire, England to live with relatives whom she has never met when her parents die in a cholera outbreak in India in the early 20th century. Her uncle, who owns the estate in England, keeps her at a distance, but she manages to connect with a local boy, her cousin, and the house servants. The mystery of her Aunt Lilly’s secret garden, that no one can access, drives her and the others to work together and make something beautiful of the garden and their family again. Stolen Shakespeare Guild is doing a lush production of the musical The Secret Garden that was visually magical and music to my ears.

The musical is based on the 1911 novel of the same name. It premiered on Broadway in 1991 and was nominated for 7 Tony awards, for which it won 3 awards including Best Book of a Musical. The style of the show is similar in my opinion to The Phantom of the Opera. Phantom premiered on Broadway in 1988 a few years earlier, and the music for both is that particular operatic style. I mention it because the show requires a strong cast of singers that can sing in that style. Stolen Shakespeare Guild really impressed me with their cast. I was blown away by the voices of every single actor on stage.

The leading role of Mary Lennox is double cast, and at this performance Summer Stern played Mary. She did an excellent job with the characters journey from petulant and privileged to a warm and friendly girl. And for a young actor she has a lovely voice. Lauren Morgan as Lily sings the very first notes of the show and as soon as she opened her mouth, she impressed with her divine soprano voice. Ms. Morgan sings the standout song “Come to My Garden” beautifully. Lily’s presence is felt throughout the show by all the characters. She is mostly there as a ghost and is occasionally seen in a flashback to when she was alive. I also loved Jessica Peterson as Martha, one of the house servants. Ms. Peterson has a natural stage presence and is completely charming as Martha.

Nolan Shaver plays Mary’s uncle, Archibald Craven. Archibald is the master of the estate and is still in a depression over the death of his wife, Lily. Mr. Shaver is excellent as Archibald. He makes the audience sympathize with the character and feel his pain. He also sounded wonderful on his solo song, “A Bit of Earth”. Keith Warren plays Dr. Neville Craven, Archibald’s brother. It’s not a huge role, but Mr. Warren makes an impact with his character motivations and distinct characterization. I’ve never heard Mr. Warren sound as good as he does in this role, which is a showcase for his crystal-clear voice. I can’t say enough good things about the duet Mr. Shaver and Mr. Warren sing called “Lily’s Eyes”, which is probably the most well-known song from this musical. Their harmonies and soaring voices blended seamlessly for a stunning rendition of this song.

There are two young men with supporting roles as Mary’s friends. Colin Craven is Archibald’s sickly son who is bed-ridden and too frail to go outside. His bratty outbursts alienate the servants and family, except for Mary who doesn’t put up with his whining and complaining. William Powers as Colin is a star on the rise. His voice is pitch-perfect and his line delivery is spot on. I think he’s on the way to being a formidable actor in the future. Cameron Roy Hall plays the other slightly older local boy, Dickon, who loves nature and animals and is also the servant Martha’s brother. I enjoyed Mr. Hall’s spirit and characterization of Dickon, but I was bothered by his accent. All of the other actors spoke, very well I might add, with an English accent. Mr. Hall was using a Scottish accent, which didn’t make sense since Dickon’s sister Martha has a line of dialogue stating that they are from Yorkshire, England.

I absolutely loved the set design by Jason and Lauren Morgan. The Sanders Theater is a very intimate black box theater space, and they designed an intricate and detailed set that allowed for many different entrance points for the actors and it was just the right scale for the space. The ivy growing all over the place and shrubbery helped to evoke that sense of a garden in a stately manor.

Special mention goes to the props designer Jennifer Stewart and props artisan Jean Jeske. There were some really interesting and antique pieces used throughout the show. I was especially fascinated by a wicker wheelchair that is used for Colin.

One of the odd elements of this show is the ensemble of ghosts used as narrators and like a Greek chorus for the entirety of the show. They weave in and out of the main characters actions and they seemed to give a sense of looming morbidity to the story, something that was not present in the novel if I recall. Regardless, the director Clare Shaffer does an excellent job staging the scenes and moving the actors around the stage seamlessly. Ms. Schaffer created intimate moments, but also allowed all the actors room to breathe life into their characters.

It’s a treat to see a show with a great story like The Secret Garden in a thoughtful and engaging production. The main highlight is just hearing this excellent group of actors at Stolen Shakespeare Guild sing so beautifully.

Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Ccenter – Sanders Theater
1300 Gendy St, Fort Worth, TX 76107
April 12th – 28th, 2019

Tickets: For dates, times, and ticket information go to or call the box office at 817-988-2058.