by Lucy Simon & Marsha
Mary Lennox, a sickly 10-year-old
English girl who has lived mostly in
isolation in India since birth, dreams
of English nursery rhymes and Hindi
chants ("Opening"). When a cholera outbreak kills everyone living in her house, Mary is discovered by soldiers and informed she must leave India to live with her Uncle Archibald in Yorkshire, England ("There's a Girl").
Mary is sent to live in England with her mysterious uncle Archibald Craven, a reclusive hunchback who has spent years grieving the death of his wife, Lily. Due to Archibald's introversion, the management of his manor house, Misselthwaite, is largely left to his manipulative brother, Dr. Neville Craven. The housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, coldly welcomes Mary to Yorkshire ("The House Upon the Hill"). Due to Archibald and Mary's lingering grief, the house is haunted by ghosts from their pasts (identified in the libretto as "dreamers" who sometimes act as a Greek chorus of narrators, including the ghosts of Mary's parents, Rose and Albert). Lonely and misbehaving, Mary despises her new surroundings and her first night there hears echoes of crying voices ("I Heard Someone Crying"). The next morning, Mary meets Martha, a young chambermaid who encourages Mary to go play outside by telling her about the surrounding moorland and, in particular, a hidden garden ("If I Had a Fine White Horse"). Archibald remains submerged in his ghostly memories of Lily ("A Girl In the Valley").
Mary explores the grounds' Victorian-style topiary maze, discovering the walled garden overgrown with ivy. She encounters the old gardener Ben Weatherstaff ("It's a Maze"), who says the garden has been locked since Lily's death, as it reminds Archibald of her, and its door has been lost somewhere behind the weeds. Martha's mystical brother, Dickon, invokes the spring ("Winter's On the Wing") in a rustic druid-like fashion. When he comes upon Mary, he gives her some seeds, claims that he can converse with animals, and teaches her to speak the Yorkshire dialect to a robin, which guides Mary to the garden's secret key ("Show Me the Key").
Inside the manor, Neville and Archibald are discussing how Neville abandoned his medical practice to take care of a bedridden boy when Mary suddenly enters. She asks Archibald for a bit of earth to plant a garden of her own. He allows it and, after she leaves, confides to Neville that his dreams of Lily have been worsening, which Neville blames on the arrival of Mary, who bears a strong physical resemblance to her aunt Lily. Curious at the simple modesty of Mary's request for some earth, Archibald muses on Lily and Mary's shared interest in gardening ("A Bit of Earth"). As the Yorkshire gloom turns to a fearsome storm ("Storm I"), Archibald and Neville grieve separately over Lily; thus, it is revealed that both men were in love with her ("Lily's Eyes"). Mary again hears crying ("Storm II"), but this time she uncovers its source: Colin, a secret cousin of hers who has been confined to bed since his birth, when his mother Lily died. Colin has been in bed his entire life because his father Archibald, probably following Neville's misleading medical advice, feared that Colin would also become a hunchback. Colin confides in Mary that he nightly dreams of a man who comes to him and reads from a magical book ("A Round-Shouldered Man"). However, just as Mary and Colin embrace each other's long-desired company, Neville and Mrs. Medlock burst in and angrily tell her she is never to see Colin again because of his fragile medical condition. As the storm reaches its peak, a distraught Mary runs outside, where the ghost of Lily reveals the location of the hidden door to the garden, and Mary inserts the key ("Final Storm").
Mary has a reverie about her loved ones and her desire for the garden to offer her privacy and the chance to discover herself ("The Girl I Mean to Be"). Neville's musings are darker; enviously recalling his unrequited love for Lily, Neville wants Archibald to leave Misselthwaite entirely to him. The two brothers' thoughts are interwoven with ghostly echoes of old arguments between Lily and her sister Rose (Mary's mother) about Archibald's suitability as a prospective husband and father ("Quartet"). The melancholy Archibald has decided to slip away to Paris for a while, pausing only to read a fairy tale to Colin while the boy sleeps ("Race You To the Top of the Morning"). Thus, the "round-shouldered man" is not a dream at all but merely Colin's own father, who, despite his emotional devastation, still deeply loves his son.
Mary tells Dickon that she has now been inside the garden but the plants are all dead. Dickon explains that it is probably just dormant and that, with some assistance, it will grow back ("Wick"). Mary tells Colin about the garden, but he is reluctant to go outside until he is encouraged by an inviting vision of his mother Lily ("Come to My Garden/Lift Me Up"). Mary, Dickon, and Martha clandestinely bring Colin to the garden in a wheelchair. In the garden, the exercise, fresh air, and magical incantations in both Hindi and English led by Mary, the ghosts, and the manor staff strengthen Colin, allowing him to rise from his wheelchair for the first time ("Come Spirit, Come Charm"). Ben reveals that Lily died giving birth to Colin from injuries sustained during an accident in the garden. Colin makes Mary and the staff promise not to tell Archibald about Colin's recovery until he is able to fully walk. The onlooking ghosts sing the praises of the renewed garden ("A Bit of Earth-Reprise").
Back in the house, Neville faces down Mary as he threatens to send her away to boarding school, culminating in a violent confrontation between the doctor and the girl. Immediately after, Martha soothes Mary, telling her to stay strong ("Hold On"). With Martha's help, Mary writes to Archibald in Paris ("Letter Song"), urging him to come home. Archibald's emotional turmoil continues to dominate him ("Where In the World"); however, Lily's ghost reappears, Archibald is able to see her, and she tells him that she always loved him. They come to the conclusion that her death was no one's fault, and Archibald can finally let her go as she tells him to care for their child and go home ("How Could I Ever Know"). Returning, he enters the garden to find Colin completely healthy; in fact, he is beating Mary in a footrace when Archibald walks through the door. Archibald, a changed man, sends Neville away to his Paris flat and triumphantly embraces Mary and Colin back into his life. The spirits of Mary's parents join Lily, promising to keep the living safe for the rest of their days ("Finale").
Date Aired: January 12, 2023
Team: Jennifer, Ricardo, and Sam
Analysis Technique: Story Origins
Community Voices: Leticia L'Huillier calling about episode #3.4 August: Osage County.
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