Barb Nichols has returned to The Theatre in the Park after an absence of seven years to direct a favorite show, “The Secret Garden,” which opened Friday in Shawnee Mission Park.
Nichols is a veteran director and performer in community theater. She has directed 12 shows at The Theatre dating to 1988, when she directed “Oklahoma.” This is the first time “The Secret Garden” has been produced at The Theatre in the Park.
“I’ve fallen in love with ‘The Secret Garden,’” she said. “I directed it in 2009 at The Barn Players and it’s become one of my favorites.”
“The Secret Garden” follows Mary, a 10-year-old girl who grew up in India and was orphaned by an earthquake in 1911. She’s sent to live with her Uncle Archibald in his English mansion. Archibald is still mourning the death of his wife, Lily, and gives Mary scant affection. She endures an unhappy existence until she discovers a magical secret garden on the mansion grounds and ultimately heals the dysfunctional family with her love.
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“It’s a wonderful story about forgiveness and perseverance with beautiful music and an intriguing plot,” Nichols said. “I’m pleased to have an opportunity to be directing another show at The Theatre. I think with its large stage and audience capacity it’s a good fit for ‘The Secret Garden.’”
Mia McManamy, 12, has the role of Mary. “She’s a very talented young performer with a great future,” said Nichols. “In fact, I think this cast is the strongest I’ve ever worked with.”
“I love being Mary,” Mia said. “I haven’t been in a show like this before. It’s awesome. Mary has so much going on in her life, especially when the ghosts come out. My favorite song is ‘Wick,’ but all the music is beautiful.”
This is the first year Mia, who lives in Kansas City, has auditioned at The Theatre in the Park. “I’m glad I did. Everyone’s been so nice to me. It’s fun to get to do all this,” she said.
Mia didn’t audition for a particular show. “I didn’t have a favorite. I just auditioned for all of them. I had callbacks for Mary and Annie (Annie Warbucks). I decided on Mary and ‘The Secret Garden.’”
“I didn’t know much about it,” she said. “Someone gave me the book but I didn’t read it. I didn’t understand it. Now I do,” she said.
Kevin Bogan portrays Uncle Archibald, who is consumed with grief for Lily and has no time for Mary until it occurs to him that she resembles his late wife. Bogan directed “Pirates of Penzance,” a Gilbert and Sullivan production, last season and “Children of Eden” the year before at The Theatre in the Park. He is director of traditional/blending worship arts at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
Joseph DeSota portrays Neville, Archibald’s brother, who has unrequited love for Lily. He wants to send Mary to boarding school but she refuses. DeSota is a graduate of the UMKC Conservatory of Music and has a doctorate in musical art. He’s making his debut at The Theatre in the Park.
“I work mostly in opera but I auditioned for ‘The Secret Garden’ because it’s a good show with beautiful music,” he said. “I like doing Neville, it’s an intriguing role.”
“I especially enjoy the duet, ‘Lily’s Eyes,’ that I sing with Archibald when we notice that Mary resembles her Aunt Lily whom we both loved,” said DeSota, who lives in Lawrence. “I’d like to do more musical theater. It’s been a good experience.”
Sisters Alexandra Blasi of Topeka and Laura Blasi of Roeland Park are on stage together again after a 10-year lapse because of career conflicts. Alexandra Blasi is an attorney with the Kansas Department of Commerce and Laura Blasi is a pediatric resident at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Alexandra plays Lily’s ghost and Laura portrays Ayah, another ghost. “The last show we were in together also was ‘The Secret Garden’ at Washburn University,” she said. “We’re still playing ghosts.”
“I like my character,” Laura said. “I play sort of a nanny. I’m a good influence on Mary. I’d like to do more musical theater but naturally work comes first. Music will always be a part of my life, though.”
“We come from a musical family,” Alexandra said. “I sing almost all my lines in the show. I speak only six lines. It’s good to be back on stage. I’m enjoying every moment of it.”
Sawyer Nevins of Kansas City plays Colin, Archibald’s son. He and Mary become close friends. Jake Leet, also of Kansas City, portrays Dickon, who claims he speaks to animals. He teaches Mary to speak Yorkshire dialect to an English robin that leads her to the secret garden.
“The Secret Garden” runs tonight and Sunday and again Wednesday through Saturday at The Theatre in the Park. Curtain time is 8:30 p.m. The box office opens at 6 p.m.
The theater is working the Trent Green Foundation-HIKE Reading Program to collect new and used books for children. Persons donating a book will receive a free bag of popcorn. Green, a former Chiefs quarterback, is scheduled to be at the show Wednesday and sign autographs.