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'Secret Garden' Takes Root in McLean

Spring production features story as musical.

Hoping to continue a successful theatrical year following last fall’s production of “Inherit the Wind,” director Denise Perrino has selected “The Secret Garden” as the spring production at McLean High School.

“We’re working with a cast of 45 on the musical version of the story, written by Marsha Norman,” Perrino said.

This version of the tale of a snobby girl sent to live with her cold, unaffectionate uncle in England after her parents die of cholera in Africa features a “mystical side,” Perrino said, with ghosts populating the garden and interacting with Mary, the main character, played by Karen Mikeliunas.

“This is my first high school play and it’s a pretty big role,” she said.

One of the things she likes most about the role is she can “act like a little kid. In the past five years there’s been 10 babies born in my family and it’s so fun to watch them,” she said. “They’re so full of life and they go from one emotion to another so quickly,” she’s been able to pick up some child-like characteristics from them.

However, that is not to say that she’s facing the role without concern. “I’ve had nightmares of forgetting my lines for the show,” she said. “I sometimes have trouble staying serious in character, and she’s a very serious little girl, so I have to work hard,” Mikeliunas said.

SET IN YORKSHIRE, England in the early 1900s, the play begins with the cholera epidemic in India because Mary’s parents, who were archeologists, were working there when they died and left her an orphan, Perrino said.

“It’s a story that goes through several years, from Mary being thoroughly unhappy with her uncle Archibald to finding friends in the people who work at his mansion and her rebirth in discovering the garden,” she said. Through Mary’s revitalization, she also helps Collin, Archibald’s son with Lilly, his wife who died in the garden, which caused the garden to be locked behind a tall iron door.

Stage manager Leila Ben-Abdallah said this production is especially “tech heavy:” there are a lot of lighting changes and set shifts throughout the show. “The challenges will be fitting all the staff in the wings,” she said. “My primary concern is not running people over in the wings.

The show is “pretty dark” for the most part, but the lighting undergoes a dramatic change near the show’s end, when the garden begins to bloom. “By the end of the play it’s spring, which changes the lighting,” she said. “I’m not sure how we’re going to do it, but it’ll look good.”

Zach Roberts will play Archibald, Mary’s sullen and isolated uncle. “I tried out for this part because I felt it best fit my voice,” he said. “My character is really deep, not necessarily dynamic, but he is very deep.”

Choreographer Linda Martin said she’s enjoying working on this “brilliant play.”

“It is a huge cast, but they’re not difficult to work with,” she said. “The guys are all doing really well with the dancers, but the sheer amount of music is challenging. Even the acting scenes take place over music.”

ONE McLEAN student, Alex Krall Jr., took some time this spring to take part in a college student’s thesis project, a short film financially sponsored by “Project Greenlight,” a show featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on the Bravo channel.

A teacher at the school mentioned the opening for an actor to Krall, who was in Florida less than a week after he heard of the opportunity.

“He cast me as a character in his film, which is documentary-style about a trailer trash mom and son in an abusive relationship,” he said. “We shot for 10 days but there was a lot of waiting. It was quite exciting.”

Krall is a member of the ensemble for The Secret Garden, which will be performed at MHS beginning April 28 in the high school’s auditorium.