Woods Church’s Production Of “The Secret Garden” Promises To Dazzle And Inspire Audiences


Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church is putting on a production of “The Secret Garden,” a Broadway adaptation of the classic novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, from March 8-10 and March 15-17.

“The Secret Garden” follows a lonely and spoiled young girl named Mary Lennox as she is sent to live with her reclusive uncle Archibald Craven at his manor in Yorkshire, England, after losing her parents to a cholera outbreak in India. Mary meets many new people, including her disabled cousin, a young boy named Colin. The manor is home to many wonders, and as Mary begins to explore, she is met with persistent melodies and the “Dreamers,” guiding spirits from Mary’s past, that draw her toward a secret garden that has been neglected over time. As Mary works to restore the garden to its former beauty, “The Secret Garden” tells a tale of renewal, hope, friendship and forgiveness.

“The Secret Garden” is Woods Church’s seventh production. The church’s previous musicals included “Godspell,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Jesus Crist Superstar.” This year, music director Dave Merrill decided to branch out with a new type of play.

“It’s important that we find a musical that is spiritually based, that has teachings of what we teach about here at Woods Church, and we thought this musical fit perfectly,” Merrill explained. “It’s not scripturally based, but it is definitely spiritually based.

“It talks about where to find your home and where you find where you belong,” Merrill said when explaining why “The Secret Garden” was selected. “It talks about family, reaching out to the ones you have lost, and how they still guide you in this life. It has been a perfect endeavor to find those themes and bring them to life.”

The play will be held in Woods Church’s sanctuary. With the support of the pastors, the space is transformed from a place of worship into a vibrant theater, equipped with everything from set pieces to sound systems to an array of lights.

“We bring in our light rig, we have our orchestra, and we have our projector screens,” Merrill said. “We try to use every outlet here in this space for the show.”

Pete Bishop and John Dawson oversee set design for the play. It is not an easy undertaking to create an immersive set in a sanctuary space, but the design crew has been up for the task. “When it comes to the set, they are the masterminds behind it,” Merrill stated.

Members of the church have also stepped up in other aspects of the production, including but not limited to costume design, makeup and choreography. Elysia Merrill, Dave’s wife, is the lead choreographer and assistant director of the show. Not only is Elysia a professional choreographer, but her detail-oriented nature keeps the show together.

“We couldn’t do this without her,” Dave Merrill said. “Her attention to detail and how she works with people is just phenomenal.”

Part of Merrill’s goal as music director at Woods Church is to pull internally for people who want to be involved in the production.

“The majority of what gets done is through people here at the church. It’s through church members. We utilize their talents and expertise … It really is a labor of love,” he said.

There are 55 people involved in the show this year, and Merrill has worked tirelessly to ensure there is a role for everyone who wants to be included. Even though the musical production of the show does not traditionally include roles for children, Merrill found a way to incorporate them. In the book, one of the characters, a boy named Dicken, is followed by animals, providing a magical element to the story. It was here that Merrill found a role for the kids.

“We have an amazing puppeteer, Trishelle Weed, who has created lifelike puppets of foxes and deer that the kids are controlling,” Merrill said. “That was a fun and creative way to bring the youth into the show.”

Not only do the puppets allow kids to be involved in the production, but with the help of a black light, the animals are illuminated with an ethereal glow.

Although the show can be dark at times, Merrill said he and his wife have worked hard to reimagine the play in a way that better reflects Woods Church’s values.

“You need that darkness before you can have the light,” Merrill said. “But in a setting like this, I personally felt it was, at places, too dark. We’ve really tried our best to find places to keep that light, to keep places that are uplifting. We are not rewriting the story, but there will be areas that will be tweaked a little bit to make things more joyful.”

As members of the production gear up for their performance, Merrill wants to highlight the importance of this play for his community.

“We are using the imagery of this garden to represent the church family,” Merrill stated. “Church is about nurturing, it’s about growing, and it’s about finding where you belong. And that is the same in the story with the centerpiece of the garden … This show is definitely for the young at heart and any theatergoer. It’s going to be great to see.”

To learn more about the upcoming production, or to purchase tickets, go to www.woodschurch.org.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here