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‘The Secret Garden’ premieres locally next week

Students rehearse a scene in the WHS production of "The Secret Garden" as Sarah Spieker, playing the part of Lily, takes cues from director Eric Parrish. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)1 / 2
Kalea Appel (left) as Mary Lennox is lectured by the servant girl Martha (portrayed by Anna Meyer) as Mary throws a tantrum during a scene of “The Secret Garden.” Based on the classic children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “The Secret Garden” features a cast of 27 Worthington High School students, who will perform the show next Thursday through Sunday at Memorial Auditorium. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — Just in time to rescue area residents weary of the white, white world of winter arrives “The Secret Garden,” a colorful musical that celebrates the gifts of love and growth following loss.

“What makes the storyline beautiful is its affirmation of the power of positive thinking, nature and the knowledge that a person can make life changes by how you respond to things,” said Eric Parrish, director.

A cast of 27 Worthington High School students, supported by a stage/set crew of a dozen more teens, will present the Tony Award-winning musical next Thursday through Sunday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.

“The music is gorgeous, and audiences will love it even if they weren’t previously familiar with it,” said Parrish, now in his fourth year of leading WHS musicals.

Based on the beloved classic “The Secret Garden” authored by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the musical version similarly centers on 10-year-old Mary Lennox.

The disagreeable Mary is plucked from the only home she has known after a cholera epidemic claims her parents. She is placed with her grieving, conflicted uncle, Archibald Craven, at his haunted Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire moors. There, she discovers her crippled cousin Colin. Colin, under the care of his uncle, Dr. Neville Craven, is seemingly estranged from his father, Archibald, who obsessively mourns the death of his wife Lily.

In the WHS production, junior Kalea Appel embodies Mary, freshman David Sternke is her cousin Colin, and seniors Davis Moore and New Bu are brothers Archibald and Neville Craven, respectively.

Senior Sarah Spieker depicts Archibald’s ghostly wife, Lily, with junior Sarah DeSmith as Mary’s mother, Rose, and senior Alex Bauman seen as Mary’s father, Albert.

Also featured are senior Anna Meyer as the spunky servant girl Martha, junior Katie O’Donnell as housekeeper Mrs. Medlock, and junior Michael Schnieder, who portrays Martha’s spirited, earthy brother Dickon. With the help of aged gardener Ben Weatherstaff (senior Chris Lee), Martha and Dickon inspire Mary to heal through nature and spark new purpose into Colin.

“There’s a depth of talent in our cast this year, and the kids have really stepped it up,” observed Parrish.

“Their talent allows us to do shows like ‘The Secret Garden’ and last year’s ‘Into the Woods’ that have multiple larger parts that are demanding,” Parrish continued.

“Even with missing several rehearsals due to snow days, the cast is not behind in where they need to be for the performances because of their work ethic and the solid foundation their music teachers have provided them over the years.”

Because this is his fourth WHS musical as director, Parrish’s cast includes several seniors who have worked with him in three or more musicals.

One of those is Spieker, seen last year as the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods.” As a freshman, Spieker was in the mermaid pool of “The Little Mermaid;” her sophomore year found her among the nurses in “South Pacific.” This year she tackles the task of appearing to be a ghost who seeks to inspire her orphaned son and comfort her widowed husband.

“Each of the roles I’ve had has been memorable for different reasons,” said Spieker. “I’ve always been interested in theater, and I watched the high school musicals before I was old enough to be in them.”

Spieker, a soprano, likes the high, operatic-type music the part of Lily requires.

“It’s not often I get to sing like that, and it works for my range,” said Spieker. “And I’ve definitely felt more comfortable each year I’ve been on stage.”

For Lee, his depiction of the gardener Ben Weatherstaff marks his third appearance in a WHS musical.

“It’s a learning experience each time,” said Lee. “Other activities I’ve been in, like speech and music, help me be comfortable in front of an audience.

“My favorite part of being in a show is working together with everyone and creating a story for others to see; that’s rewarding.”

And one senior, New Bu, is on stage for the very first time.

“Some of my friends wanted me to try out, and my older brother, Smile, who was in a couple of musicals, convinced me to do it,” said Bu.

Landing the important part of Dr. Neville Craven threw Bu into a different realm.

“Initially, I was kind of surprised to get a big role because it was my first time,” said Bu. “The best thing is that I get to play a character who is really different than I am.

“Neville Craven is kind of an evil guy, a jealous type who wants everything for himself,” Bu continued. “It’s a fun role to play, even though the singing came more naturally than being evil, but Mr. Parrish was patient with us and helped me in figuring out how to emotionally connect with my character.”

Parrish credits a strong supporting cohort in aiding him with mounting “The Secret Garden.” Assistants include John Singler, head carpenter/set builder; Erin Belpedio, lighting designer; Roxanne Hayenga, costume coordinator; Paul Seifert, technical assistant; Than Than Kyaw, costume and painting assistant; Kris Stewart, pit band director; Tad Stewart, stage manager; and Bethany Dorschner, assistant director.

“And Memorial Auditorium staff Mark Brodin and Tammy Makram help us with so many things,” said Parrish.

“Mark is a huge asset. He really functions as our technical director because he brings a vast amount of knowledge and experience to bear.

“And the level to which the entire District 518 music staff, including Kerry Johnson, has prepared these students through music education is really what enables us to perform shows like this.”

Bu, Lee and Spieker hope community members of all ages will turn out to witness the fruits of their efforts next week.

“Older audience members — teens and above — will be more drawn to the melancholy story and plot, but children will enjoy the storms, dancing and flashing lights,” suggested Spieker.

“Mr. Parrish has big and cool ideas that other people don’t always think of, and he’s really good at enacting them to create a final product that audiences will fall in love with.”

Added Bu, “It’s a very interesting plot with a lot of twists and turns.”

Parrish emphasized that “The Secret Garden” is a family-friendly musical.

“While it deals with themes of loss and forgiveness, and involves some storms and sorrow, it’s appropriate for all ages,” said Parrish.

“’The Secret Garden’ has lots of music, movement and theater magic to hold your attention.”

Summarized Bu, “I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on seeing this great cast, crew and set.”

The WHS production of the musical “The Secret Garden,” with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 28-March 2, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. ISD student IDs and activity passes honored only at Sunday performance. All seats reserved. To reserve tickets, visit the box office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, call 376-9101 or visit friendsoftheauditorium.com.

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