'Secret Garden' set to debut

First City Players volunteers move items for the set of the upcoming production of “The Secret Garden” from the FCP offices on Wednesday for transport to Ketchikan High School, where the musical will be staged beginning Nov. 8. Staff photo by Raegan Miller

After two months of near non-stop rehearsals, First City Players’ latest musical production, “The Secret Garden,” is mere days away from its opening night.

The play is based on the classic children’s book of the same name, which was written in the early 20th century by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The production is being directed by Elizabeth Nelson, with Dani Pratt acting as assistant director. Deidra Nuss is the musical director, and Clare Bennett is assisting with choreography and musical staging.

Nelson, the executive artistic director at First City Players, described the play as “very much a period piece” during an interview with the Daily News.

The story follows Mary, a recently orphaned 10-year-old girl, who is forced to move from India to Yorkshire, England after the death of her parents. In Yorkshire, she takes up residence with her uncle Archibald, whom she had never met, and his sickly son, Colin.  

“It’s really the story of them all learning to love again, to be loved and to love,” Nelson said about the play. “It’s a really sweet and beautiful story.”

“The Secret Garden” is a personal favorite of Nelson’s, and will finally be brought to the stage in Ketchikan because Nelson believes “lots of things just combined to make this the right year.”

“The Secret Garden’ is a show that I personally have wanted to do for a really long time and I never thought I’d be able to do,” Nelson said. “Partly because the music is really complicated and it takes a certain level of vocal chops, especially male singers, to be able to make the show happen.”

“And when we were looking at scripts and when we were looking at people in town, there were a number of really, really fine male singers in town, currently,” Nelson continued, adding that she knew of many people in the First City who would be able to make the show happen, even with complicated music or challenging vocals.

After a series of meetings with First City Players staff, community members and the “season selection committee,” which Nelson said is an annual affair, the play was chosen for the 2019 – 2020 season.

Auditions began in early September, with the cast list being assembled shortly after.  According to Nelson, the 20-person cast of “The Secret Garden” is small, compared to an average cast of around 40 people.

“It’s not an easy show,” Nelson added. “Some shows, and I think this is probably one, is very much developed with the people that they have originally cast in the show, and sort of built around how the original show envisions what they’re doing. So, coming up with a show that can be as beautiful within our budget has been a puzzle.”

As the show inches closer to opening night, the members of the small cast continue to hone their performances.

“At this point, we’re rehearsing three and a half to four hours a day,” Nelson said.

 On Saturday, the cast will be moving set pieces to the Kayhi auditorium, where they will adjust their performances to the bigger stage.

“There’s orchestra that needs to be put into that, there’s lighting, there’s sound, it’s a really big project,” Nelson said. “To make a project like this is really huge. It takes a lot of people to make a show happen.”