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Cast members of the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of “A Secret Garden” rehearse Friday afternoon at the Memorial Auditorium in Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

‘The Secret Garden’ blooms at Memorial Auditorium

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‘The Secret Garden’ blooms at Memorial Auditorium
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

By Jane Turpin Moore

WORTHINGTON — Monday’s sub-zero temperatures may have delayed auditions by 24 hours, but the Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) production of “The Secret Garden” is blooming in Worthington in spite of the cold.

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“We lost a day of rehearsals because of the bad weather on Monday, but things have moved forward since then and the show will go on today at 2 p.m.,” said Janene Winters, box office manager for the Friends of the Auditorium.

Twenty-seven youths from Worthington, Fulda, Adrian, Wilmont, Heron Lake and Ocheyedan and Sibley, Iowa, are filling out the roster of characters in the MCT adaptation of the beloved classic “The Secret Garden,” written by Frances Hodges Burnett and first published in 1911.

“Things are going really well,” attested Tanya Henderson, one of the two-person MCT actor/director team members facilitating the show-in-a-week. “We have a small but mighty cast, and they have a lot to do on stage but they are doing it well and doing it big.

“It’s fun sometimes to work with a somewhat smaller cast, because it gives us more time to help the kids develop individual character details and quirks.”

Henderson and her MCT tour partner, Stephanie Walsh, have been on the road since June, putting on “The Secret Garden” from start to finish each week in a different town. Their route has taken them through Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington and British Columbia.

“Being on the road with MCT is fun for me, because my family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and it’s a fantastic way to see the country,” said Henderson, who will play the part of Detective Del today while Walsh will portray the heroine Mary Lennox’s Ayah.

The remainder of the roles, however, are filled by students from the ages of 5 to 14, and since Tuesday evening, they’ve spent hours learning songs, scripts and movements to entertain and tell the story of the orphaned Mary and her newfound friends, Colin and Dickon.

“This is the third time Ashlyn has been in a Missoula Children’s Theatre production, and she absolutely loves it,” said Lisa Greve, Worthington, of her sixth grade daughter’s involvement.

“It’s a great process for her to learn how theater takes place and what commitment means,” Greve continued. “The staff are very kid-friendly, and they’re easy to work with, upbeat people.”

Sixth grader Sarah DeSmith, a friend of Ashlyn Greve (who is portraying Dickon) and Katie O’Donnell (in the role of Martha Sowerby), has been scrambling to learn the lines assigned to her character, Mary.

“She has a big part so she’s a little stressed, but also very excited because all her friends are in it, too,” said Brenda DeSmith, Sarah’s mother.

“Her first stage experience was four years ago when she was in the Missoula Children’s Theatre show of ‘King Arthur’s Court,’ and she enjoyed that so was looking for an opportunity to get on stage again,” added DeSmith.

“The Secret Garden” marks the 11th time an MCT performance has been mounted in Worthington, and this year’s show is sponsored by the Elizabeth Trunk Estate.

All five children of Kristin and Scot Spittle, Fulda, have been in MCT productions—eight altogether, if Kristin’s memory serves her correctly.

“This time around, Gabe (14), Simon (9) and Keegan (6) are in it,” said Kristin Spittle. “They like doing the shows because of the friends they make and the camaraderie of it all—sometimes it seems it’s more about the relationships than anything.

“And the MCT staff are incredible—kind, on task, pumped, and really caring about the kids,” she said. “They make it really easy to be involved.”

The MCT team of Henderson and Walsh say they, in turn, feed off the energy from each group of kids they encounter.

“We wouldn’t do the job if we didn’t enjoy working with students,” reminded Henderson.

“It’s amazing to see them go from auditioning the first day to gaining mastery, and if we’ve done a good job and they’ve done their homework, they’re enjoying themselves and really performing it, becoming an integral part of it all, by the end of the week.”

And while the earlier bad weather may have contributed to a somewhat smaller cast than MCT shows in Worthington typically involve, the students are nonetheless rising to the occasion, Henderson assured.

“Last night, Vonna Leckband, who coordinates the ushers for the auditorium and has two grandchildren in the show, was leaving and heard the kids practice the grand finale,” recalled Winters.

“She stopped in her tracks and said, ‘Wow! Listen to them sing,’” Winters said. “For a relatively small number, they are really cranking it up.”

The Missoula Children’s Theatre performance of “The Secret Garden” is at 2 p.m. today at Memorial Auditorium, 714 13th St., Worthington. Tickets are available at the door beginning at 1:30 p.m. All seats are general admission. Any tickets previously purchased for Friday night will be honored for today’s performance. For more information, call 376-9101.

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