When I'd Give Her The World, She Asks Instead For Some Earth
October 17, 2018 8:13 PM   Subscribe

The Tony award-winning 1991 Broadway production of The Secret Garden (adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel) is not particularly well-known. Its house is haunted by the past and its young heroine struggling to grow into the future. The show's sophisticated examinations of love and loss and its depiction of youthful self-discovery was deeper than typical musical fare. The main record we have of this show is the Original Broadway Cast recording [discogs], which features Daisy Eagan, Mandy Patinkin, and John Cameron Mitchell (very much pre-Hedwig), amongst others, and contains between song scenes which flesh out the story even for those who have never seen the show. Here's a YouTube playlist (I apologize for the commercials).

Aside from the cast recording, we do have a few other records of this mostly-lost production. The 1991 Tony Awards had a bit of a sampling of several of their numbers. Here's a strange collection of clips from an audience bootleg from 1992 [7m20s]. And there's this official press reel about the show [13m30s] which has fairly-full filmings of several songs. (Part 2 [14m20s]. (This is likely as close to a PBS filming you'll find from this production, probably the best introduction if you just want to dip to check it out.)

Here's an E! Behind The Scenes about the 1992 tour. [20m] There's also a single-camera VHS filming of the first US tour [35m] (Part 2 [35m], Part 3 [35m], Part 4 [32m]) which I think is an audience bootleg, and which isn't the original cast at all, but I've heard some prefer them to the original. [Blasphemy! Mandy Patinkin! 'nough said!] It's not at all high quality, but it's a record of the production. (If you've watched the previous videos, a lot of the key moments will be filled in with more detail for you.)

Finally, for the truly interested and stubborn, there's this full length audience VHS bootleg of the original cast. The video quality is terrible (it's more like watching an impressionist painting than a video) and it's not well-shot, but the sound is decent for what it is, and it is enough to give you some idea of the magical quality of this show and how it all blended together. [2h4m] (Part 2 [14m])
posted by hippybear (33 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of my favorites. Nice to see it appreciated, thanks for posting!
posted by ApathyGirl at 8:52 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is great! This was the first actual Broadway show I ever saw. I can still remember the set and some of the production.
posted by odin53 at 9:04 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey, I was in this show in college! I played Mrs. Winthrop, the stuffy headmistress of the boarding school they try to pack young Mary off to, until she terrifies the woman with Hindi curses (Mar Jao!) - and, as Parks and Rec tells us, there's nothing white people are more afraid of than curses. (As a singer who sometimes acts, it puzzled me to get one of the two non-singing roles, but I was thoroughly typecast as a principal or headmistress throughout undergrad. Now I'm a professor. Go figure.) I refer to it as "the show where I got owned by a ten-year-old."

It's really quite a beautiful musical, though I know it less well than I should, having to hide backstage for 90% of it. (Our undergrad paper reviewed it as having pacing problems, but the reviewer was subsequently fired from the paper for writing the review after having left at intermission.) "I Heard Someone Crying" is one of my favourites; the whole show is surprisingly spooky and atmospheric, with nice balancing moments of sunshine. Thanks for all the memories!
posted by ilana at 9:04 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

This came out around the time that my step-sister was reading the book, so it ended up becoming A Thing in our house. We wore out the cast recording and eventually saw it on Broadway, though I only remember bits and pieces of the show itself. Some of the songs are really good, and Mandy Patinkin is just a treasure. My interest in musicals didn't end up surviving my adolescent years, but every now and then I'll remember (fondly) that this show existed. I still know most of the lyrics by heart, some twenty-five years later.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:07 PM on October 17, 2018

I have the world's biggest soft spot for Lily's Eyes. This probably marks me as a melodramatic sap but I don't care. Mandy Patinkin crashing in at the top of the staff like it's not hard is practically a Broadway cliche now but damn it's just so outrageously effective. Now to find the time to digest all the hours of video in this post..
posted by range at 9:34 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh I have dreamed for decades about being able to come in from over the top like Mandy does in that song. It also helps that Patinkin's and Westenberg's voices blend so well that it nearly sounds like one singer with two voices by the end. EXTREMELY effective!
posted by hippybear at 9:39 PM on October 17, 2018

(also posted by range -- eponysterical!)
posted by hippybear at 9:39 PM on October 17, 2018

I loved this show, and I had the cast recording on tape. I bet I can still sing along with most of it!
posted by TwoStride at 9:47 PM on October 17, 2018

My family took me to see this when I was 6. I had a terrible headache and absolutely no idea what was going on. We left at intermission.
posted by smelendez at 9:51 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lily's Eyes is great. I first encountered it during music summer camp in high school, in the form of a really great and theatrical performance of it during one of the regular evening performance sessions. It made a real impression on me, although I've never taken the time to get very familiar with the rest of the play.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:42 PM on October 17, 2018

I read this book to The Littlest Hobo at bedtime a couple years ago, and did my best despite all the "Broad Yorkshire" written into it.

Now she's singing "The Girl I Mean To Be" as her festival song&dance number this year, and our home is full of rusty iron prop keys!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:45 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh also, the London Children's Ballet production was also formative!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:46 AM on October 18, 2018

Saw this on Broadway in 1992 as part of a week long Broadway binge courtesy of a friend's dad who wanted his son and friends to get a little more culture. The requirement was that we had to read Les Miserables unabridged first...

I wish I had been older when I saw it so that I would have appreciated it more - I barely remember anything about the production now. I never even gave my copy of the sound track a second look until years later which is when I fell in love with it.
posted by charred husk at 6:10 AM on October 18, 2018

One of my absolute favorites as a musical loving teen. I saw it two or three times with touring productions in the 90s (such a magical set!) but then it disappeared. I presume it's probably a very difficult show to mount with two child leads? Then three years ago, there was a gorgeous production at the Court Theatre in Chicago that I was lucky enough to see. The show's page has some videos and photos from the production, which was utterly splendid and made some beautiful choices about staging and orchestration. I warned my companion that I was likely to sob through the last 20 minutes or so, and I absolutely did.
posted by merriment at 6:50 AM on October 18, 2018

One thing that always makes me remember this musical was the amount of dialogue they include in the cast recording--which I took as so definitive that anytime I come across the movie version from the 90s and watch it, I'm tremendously disappointed to not hear any of this dialogue being spoken. Somehow I conflated the musical and the film in my memory, and the film is always a disappointment.
posted by TwoStride at 7:06 AM on October 18, 2018

The Secret Garden was literally one of my favorite books growing up!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:45 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's a full professional video recording available at the NYPL. There are restrictions to access, but they're not that onerous as archival restrictions go. They also have a recording of a 1990 workshop version and several other related videos of interviews with people who worked on the production.
posted by Jahaza at 9:15 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of my favorites. There was a really beautiful semi-touring production of it at Baltimore's Center Stage a couple years ago.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:12 AM on October 18, 2018

The Tony award-winning 1991 Broadway production of The Secret Garden (adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel) is not particularly well-known.

I guess I forget what a self-selecting community of grown up ex-theater kids I exist in. I bet I could go into any coffee shop in town, sing a few bars of "Come to my Garden" and start at least a quartet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Holy shit, I had no idea that John Cameron Mitchell played Dickon! I loved the book when I was little, and when the musical came out, I had the soundtrack on tape and listened to it obsessively. I've never seen a production of it, and I've never even thought to check on YouTube for videos. This is a fantastic post!

The "Lily's Eyes" duet in the middle of the storm is magical and my favorite part.
posted by gladly at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2018

I was in a performing arts magnet school at the time. We went and saw this performance with the original cast. A friend of mine was close friends with Mitchell, and he came and talked to us. I might even still have the notes from his talk ... somewhere. She's going to flip out when she learns about this post.
posted by WCityMike at 10:45 AM on October 18, 2018

Ooh, I saw a local college production of this when I was in high school and I absolutely LOVED it. So spooky and beautiful. Thanks for this reminder! I hope I can see it again at some point!
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:03 AM on October 18, 2018

John Cameron Mitchell's voice is so distinctive and special
posted by sweetjane at 1:01 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's so interesting to see what people remember, and which songs have stuck with them.. for me it's "Wick".
posted by ApathyGirl at 3:29 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had a book of piano selections from this show, back when I was in high school, along with the soundtrack. My sister and I (who were both musical theater nerds*) would gather around the piano and sing along while I played Lily's Eyes really very badly. (I have never managed to conquer the key change at the end.) It was great. I've still got that book somewhere - I should pull it out.

*We used to do a terrible two-man show of Les Miz in our living room when we were middle school aged. To this day, I know that show mostly by heart but it never occurs to me to sing any of her parts.
posted by darchildre at 3:50 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

*We used to do a terrible two-man show of Les Miz in our living room when we were middle school aged. To this day, I know that show mostly by heart but it never occurs to me to sing any of her parts

OMGOMG my sister and our best friend and I used to do the same thing! And yeah, to this day I never sing Eponine or Valjean or Marius's songs, because those aren't my parts!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:27 PM on October 18, 2018

It's so interesting to see what people remember, and which songs have stuck with them.. for me it's "Wick".

What surprised me about finally seeing video of Wick being performed is that, listening to the cast album, it never occurred to me that during the song, while Mary is singing about the garden growing, Dickon is singing about Spring coming into Mary's life and how she's going to grow now.

It surprised me greatly and actually reduced me to tears, seeing Mitchell's tender, teacherly performance.
posted by hippybear at 5:45 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was also my first ever real Broadway show, in 1992. As a pre-teen musical theater geek, I'd seen touring companies (Les Miz and Phantom, of course) and regional productions (Into the Woods and Pal Joey were two memorable ones), but it was so special to go to an actual Broadway theater! And this was such a wonderful show to have that experience with. I was staying with my older, adult cousin who lived on the Upper West Side and we went out for a late post-theater dinner at a Chinese restaurant and I felt like the most sophisticated urban person ever (Seeing a Broadway show! Eating fried rice at 10:00 at night! In New York!).

I had read and loved the book, so the show really landed for me, and became one of the OBCs I practically wore out over the next year or so. But I completely forgot about it until a few years ago, when my love of Hamilton got me back into musical theater, and I started going to see live theater on a regular basis again (thanks, Lin Manuel Miranda!). I remembered this show, and went down a youtube black hole, but missed so many of these links, so I'm excited to dig in.

The story this show (and the novel) tells is so deep and primal. It's about spiritual growth and regeneration, and how connections with other people and the land help us grow and become whole. I love it.
posted by lunasol at 6:37 PM on October 18, 2018

The song that does it for me is Winter's on the Wing--which is also one of the only scenes I can clearly remember from seeing the musical as a teenager...
posted by TwoStride at 6:47 PM on October 18, 2018

Also, I just saw that there was a 25th anniversary concert, and Mary was played by Sydney Lucas, who was unbelievable in Fun Home - here's her singing the iconic "Ring of Keys." Wish there were a way to watch the whole thing.
posted by lunasol at 8:31 AM on October 19, 2018

hippybear, which link is that performance in?
posted by ApathyGirl at 9:49 AM on October 19, 2018

I saw the 25th anniversary concert live! I loved the musical when I was little so my mom got us tickets. It was fantastic! Daisy Eagan (the original Mary) played Martha.
posted by elvissa at 10:29 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

ApathyGirl -- it's in part 2 of the press reel, jump to about 3:38.
posted by hippybear at 5:46 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

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