"Some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard": Q&A with Ken on The Secret Garden!


The Secret Garden is a classic story, and one that's beloved by many around the world. Tell us a little bit about why you picked it for this season at Gallery 7.

Ken Hildebrandt


So, I have a confession: Even though I knew about the story, I had not read The Secret Garden before selecting the musical adaptation for the G7 season. I directed it for a high school several years ago but I had never read the novel.

When searching for shows that could be staged at G7, I re-visited The Secret Garden and was really quite taken by it’s charm, it’s heart and soul in a new way. Here was a story of renewal, forgiveness, family – a search for the dream in the nightmare, a search for hope in the darkness. These are themes we always like to explore here at G7 and though the musical is not as well known as some Broadway shows, I was convinced it would find a good home on our stage.

The Secret Garden, like most musicals, is very theatrical, but it also has its abstract elements, which can be very fun to stage, both in terms of staging, but also in terms of costuming and lighting. Most importantly, though, this show features some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in a Broadway show – so rich and layered lyrically, and so emotionally charged and character driven.

The music grabs me emotionally every time, and when you tie that together with the journey of the characters, I find this show so fulfilling and inspiring.

I think audiences are in for a real thrill ride, but also a meaningful and entertaining theatre experience, Oh, and I’m just about finished the novel at the time of writing this, and I can confirm that this show is quite faithful to the spirit of the original novel and I think fans of the story will be quite pleased.


Photo by Dianna Lewis

You're also directing! How do you approach directing a show with so many diverse characters and important themes?


I approach this show just like any other show I direct: I read the script over, focus in on a central theme, identify tone and atmosphere, determine whether the show is realistic or abstract (or something in between), track the story and character arcs, and build the show accordingly.

With this musical, abstract elements intertwine with realistic elements. For example, we discover early on that the only characters Mary Lennox knows in India have died in the cholera epidemic, yet these characters appear throughout the show as dreamers, ‘assisting’ Mary in her journey. The dreamers represent Mary’s working through her emotional trauma. We need to make sure the audience can quickly determine who the ‘dead’ are and who the ‘live’ characters are in order for the motif or metaphor to work. We’re using costumes and physicality to help make the differentiation. This idea applies to other characters in the show, but I don’t want to spoil the whole show.

The observations I made during prep work with the script apply to other things in the show: For example, knowing that Mary comes from a military family has influenced the choreography to some extent in terms of form and style – at times, you’ll see a very symmetrical, militaristic style to the movement.

Second, to help the audience understand Mary’s journey as the story progresses from winter to spring, and the nightmare transitions in to a dream, we’re adding some subtle changes to costuming, make-up, lighting and set dressing.

Third, since I feel that the show is character-driven rather than a spectacle, the staging and the choreography needs to focus the audience’s attention on the lyrics and dialogue.


Tell us a little bit about the music in the show. Will people be familiar? Or is there something new here?


The music in this show is one of the major reasons I selected it for our season: it’s amazing, some of the best I’ve heard in a Broadway musical. The quality of the lyrics match the quality of the music; the authors have done an excellent job of integrating a classical, almost medieval feel to some of the lyrics, while making sure the songs move the story and characters forward in their journey in a purposeful way.

This musical isn’t as well known as some, but I think audiences will feel they’re experiencing something fresh and unique. I think the music will really grab people’s hearts and bring them right in to the story.


Photo by Dianna Lewis

You've assembled a big cast, with lots of familiar faces for a G7 audience. Who's in the show?


You’re right – this show is just like any other musical: it has a big cast! Audiences will see some familiar faces such as Reuben Leonard, who played Joseph last year, in the role of Dickon, Peter Shaver, our Mr. Keller in The Miracle Worker, in the role of Ben Weatherstaff, and Elizabeth Seaman, who played Captain Hook in Peter and the Starcatcher in the role of Lily. But we have a lot of new faces as well, including Payton Witthome, who’s playing Mary Lennox, and Nada Moorthy in the role of Mary’s Ayah.


Have there been any standout moments in rehearsals so far?


Through-out rehearsals, I’m constantly reminded about how amazingly talented our cast is. The music in this show is not easy by any stretch but they attack it with such skill and passion. They’re doing such an outstanding job capturing the fun, yet classical nature of the music, while bringing their characters to life. It’s so much fun to see.


Are there any themes in the show that really resonate with you?


Oh boy, there are so many themes that really resonate with me that it’s difficult to name just a couple, but if I’m forced to make a choice, I’d have to say the idea of lost then found is exceptionally powerful. Also, the idea of forgiveness, especially in the face of tragedy, is particularly poignant.

These are very spiritual themes that connect to my faith journey in visceral ways. It’s hard for me to listen to the music, knowing the story, and not get teary-eyed – not because of sadness, but because of joy and catharsis.


Who should come and see this show? And what can they expect to see when the lights go down?


If you’ve every felt lost, or an outsider, or have just felt overwhelmed by the heaviness of life, this is a show for you.

If you’re tired of winter, and ready for spring, this is a show for you.

If you love musicals, live theatre, or a little substance with your entertainment, this is a show for you.

If you love the novel, this is a show for you.

Heck, if you just love gardening, this is a show for you.

Young or old, there is something for everyone in The Secret Garden.




The enchanting musical of hope and renewal starts March 27 at the Abbotsford Cultural Centre—get your tickets now!