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The holidays have arrived at The Contra Costa Civic Theatre. Their current production of “The Secret Garden,” based on the 1910 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett runs through Dec. 20 at CCCT’s Flynn theatre in El Cerrito. It is the perfect charm to fill out your holiday theatre season ticket. Directed by Roger Welch, who crafts a capable production, he brings Burnett's story a charming treat for East Bay audiences. There is an enchanting quality to this 1911 classic, the story of a 10 year old Mary Lennox orphaned after her parents die of cholera and sent from her home from India to live in England. It becomes a tale of rebirth and redemption. Composer Lucy Simon and lyricist Marsha Norman create some wonderful music including the opening number “There’s a Girl” skillfully performed by the ensemble.

The story begins in 1906 India Mary is a silver spoon, somber child of wealthy English parents stationed in Colonial India. She sleeps under a veil of netting while her parents dance at a party swirling with colorful silk dresses. Her safe world is destroyed by cholera and everyone but Mary is affected and dies. Once she arrives in England to meet her uncle, Archie, at his cold gray mansion filled with secrets and surrounded by a vast garden. The story follows Mary as she tries to understand her uncle Archie and his brother Dr. Neville. The bedridden youngest member of the cast, Isaiah Johnson shines as the sickly Colin. The garden becomes a metaphorical home of growth and enlightenment for Mary, Colin and eventually her Uncle. Young Johnson’s solo “Round Shouldered Man” is excellent.

Music director Kevin Roland kept the sometimes moody score and operatic tone enchanting as we follow Mary's adventure to the Garden. Eleven year old Maya Martinez-Krams plays the young Mary, and she is on stage throughout the two and half hour musical. Krams is given a difficult role for a pre-teen to play and she does well. The supporting cast is excellent featuring local favorite LaMont Ridgell as Mary's uncle Archibald Craven. Ridgell has some commanding solos that are excellent including “A Bit of Earth” that fills the Flynn Theatre with his powerful performance. Casey Ellis, the ghost of Lily, (Archie's true love) is a constant presence; an observer to Archie's relentless moods, Colin's thoughts about his rumors of dying, and Mary's sullen moods. Ellis has an experienced voice and is superb in “Come to My Garden” with Colin. CCCT’s youth musical director Christina Martin makes her stage debut and is cast as Rose, Mary's mother, who appears in flashbacks, and does a skillful performance in the reprise of “A Bit of Earth”.

The talented Jack Sale and Chloe Angst are both charismatic as Mary’s side kicks Dickon and Martha. They both bring bright moments to the story with their solos “Winters In The Wing” and the delightful “A Fine White Horse”. Sale plays the brother and is one of the highlights of the musical. Angst brings some needed comic moments to the Garden and is a joy on stage. Other outstanding performance include the stern headmistress Mrs. Winthrop played by the feisty Joy Craig. Ron Dritz who doubles as Mary's father and as Ben the gardener, the talented Paul Plain as the villain of sorts, Dr. Neville Craven. Fakir and Ayha, part of the Indian storyline are so smooth in their stage presence performed by Josiah Minued and Grace Lilette Lorenzana.

A highlight of this production is the elegant earth tone costumes designed by Liza Danz and her team Sophie Hanin, and Ashley Canland. The Indian gowns and sashes work well against the tones of the Misselthwaite Manor. Lily and Winthrop wear are outstanding and in the final scene Lily's gown is lighted from within. Hamilton Guillen lighting design includes some dramatic back lighting to introduce the enchanted look. Kuo-Hao Lo set design creates an enchanting Garden and elegant entrances and exits, and forest set pieces that extend into the proscenium arch.

The sound design includes some excellent work by Michael Kelly, and props created by Devon LaBelle high lighted by Dickon’s walking stick and the perfect wheelchair for Colin. Kevin Roland and Nick DiScala fill the music with their two person orchestra and are very impressive. “The Secret Garden” is the perfect holiday treat to add to your winter theatre evening. Of course you can see the many Christmas Carols, but a trip to this Garden is an enchantment in my opinion a better suggestion. It plays through December 20th, performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm at the Flynn theatre.

Contra Costa Civic Theatre (CCCT)

continues its 56th anniversary season with

The Secret Garden

Composer Lucy Simon and lyricist Marsha Norman

Directed by Roger Welch, Music Director Kevin Roland

Bring in the holiday season to

Contra Costa Civic Theatre

Performances November 20 through December 20

Tickets on sale now; call 510.524.9132

or visit

Photos by Ben Krantz

CCCT 951 Pomona Ave (cross street Moeser)

El Cerrito, CA 94530

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