• What: "The Secret Garden"
• When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, Sept. 6-7, 13-14, 20-21; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 7, 14-15, 21-22; and 7 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 12, 19
• Where: MainStage, Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.
• Admission: $30 opening night; otherwise, $12.50-$25
• Phone: 423-267-8534
• Website: www.TheatreCentre.com
Mike Lees says he was flattered and honored to be invited to direct the first show of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's 90th season, but he was a bit concerned about finding actors for the challenging primary children's roles in the opening musical "The Secret Garden."
Would he be able to find youngsters talented in both musical and acting abilities and mature enough to handle these roles, he wondered.
Lees says now he needn't have worried.
"I got really lucky," Lees says. "The theater gods were with me."
The musical based on the classic 1911 story by Frances Hodgson Burnett opens Friday, Sept. 6, and runs for three weekends. The 8 p.m. curtain on opening night will be preceded by the CTC's 90th anniversary gala.
"The Secret Garden," with music from the Tony Award-winning 1991 Broadway musical by Lucy Simon (Carly's sister) and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, tells the story of Mary Lennox, a sickly and contrary girl who comes to live with her widowed Uncle Archibald in a gloomy English manor after she is orphaned. Her only friend is a bedridden boy named Colin, whose prospects may be dimmer than her own. Only when she finds the key to a secret garden do their prospects and their outlook change.
The musical, which was performed at the CTC in 1993 and in 1997, was chosen by theater officials and an audience poll to be one of the shows for the 90th season. Lees believes its inclusion is due to the uplifting aspect of the story and its musical score.
"It's one of the most beautiful scores I've ever worked with," he says. "The songs are memorable, the harmonies are lush. And there is lots about the story itself that would endear it to an audience."
Part of the story, according to Lees, is told through flashbacks, or memories by the characters of Archibald and Mary. The departed characters of Lily, Archibald's late wife, and Mary's parents, for instance, serve as narrators -- similar to a Greek chorus -- through dialogue and song.
He says the cast has been "magnificent" navigating the staging and the transformation the characters undergo throughout the musical, including the "uncanny ability" of the children's leads, Sarah Grayce Crouch and Ethan Fell.
"I am always overwhelmed by the talent we have in Chattanooga," Lee says.
Contact Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.