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A Secret Garden Offers Healing To The Wounded

three people standing by a wall
Charlie Schlenker
Music Director Lev Ivanov, Actor Abby Naden, and Director Cristen Monson of Prairie Fire Theater's production of "The Secret Garden."

Prairie Fire Theatre goes gothic this year with an erie production of "The Secret Garden," based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

With powerful music, haunting imagery, and redemptive themes, the cast and crew said they are excited to present this show.

"'The Secret Garden' has that Gothic, Victorian feel of mystery and ghosts and spirits. The beauty of the story is the rebirth of not just a garden, but the rebirth of these very sad people, very ill people that become whole because of this child that is thrown into their lives, and who brings that life to them,” said director Cristen Monson.

The show stars University High School’s Abby Naden as 11-year-old Mary Lennox, a recently orphaned girl who travels to live with her reclusive uncle and cousin. Mary is guided by ghosts from her past to an abandoned garden, which she revives.

“Mary is a child, and she's a child who's pretty much lost everything. She just comes into this new place that she's never seen before, and she knows nobody, and she sort of finds things to hold on to, like this garden that she decides to take in and care for. I think that sort of helps her find her place in this new and terrifying reality,” said Naden.

The 1991 show ran for over 700 performances on Broadway and still stands the test of time.

“This was composed in 1989 and first produced in 91, I believe, on Broadway, and also was composed by a woman composer, which is really wonderful because in classical music, we always have these old white guys from Europe. I'm really happy that we can celebrate not only not only wonderful music, but something that is composed by a woman, which is especially relevant in today's time,” said music director Lev Ivanov.

Only in recent years have female writers and composers gained significant recognition on Broadway. The first musical entirely written by women to win the Tony Award for Best Musical was "Funhome" in 2015. "The Secret Garden" was nominated for the award in 1991 but did not win. The show is still performed by many community and professional theater companies internationally.  

The show will be performed at Westbrook Auditorium, Illinois Weslyan University, from Thursday, Aug. 2, to Sunday, Aug. 5. Evening shows are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, while Matinee shows are at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (309) 824-3047. Adult tickets are $20 and children tickets are $6.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.