"Lily's Eyes" - The Secret Garden - Music of Heartbreak
The Secret Garden - it was not my first Broadway musical, but it was the first time I saved up my own money and went to New York City by myself to see a Broadway show. I remember, since I was by myself, that I was able to secure a 6th row center ticket at the St. James theatre for about $65 (full price) to see this show without knowing anything about either the music or the story. I had never read the book. Truthfully, I had a big crush on John Cameron Mitchell and that's what got me into the theatre. In fact, I almost saw Nick & Nora that weekend (in previews), but after seeing Mitchell's picture outside the theatre, I decided to see The Secret Garden. I figured Nick & Nora would be a hit and that it would be around for a while. It's the only time my teenage hormones worked in my favor (The Secret Garden) and not the only time my teenage judgement of what would run worked against me (Nick & Nora). It turns out that this was one of the most glorious days of theatregoing I would ever experience. Sorry Nick & Nora.
What particularly grabbed me about The Secret Garden was how deftly composer Lucy Simon and lyricist Marsha Norman caught the deep ache of loneliness, the palpable sense of regret, and the penetrating feelings of melancholy that propel this story forward. Conversely, they also captured the underlying sense of hope, magic, and possibility that keeps this show inspiring and buoyant. But it was in the loneliness, regret, and melancholy that I was lifted out of my seat at the St. James and transported to Yorkshire and into the story of The Secret Garden. The choral pieces during the opening sequence, emulating the moaning sadness of the moors, the ever-present ghosts gliding in and out to narrate the story, the magical twang of Indian and folk instruments adding to the mysterious unknown, all hypnotized me into believing that this world enveloped me.
It was the supremely visceral "Lily Eyes" that elevated the piece for me to a level of theatrical ecstasy. This kind of euphoria can only be experienced in live theatre: the electricty that emanated from Mandy Patinkin and Robert Westenberg as they portrayed two bitter and heartsick brothers, both pining for the ghost of the same woman. As the piece progresses and builds, each brother pours out their soul, voiding themselves of years of unfathomable pain and emotional suffering, all for the love of a beautiful woman who died before her time. The final note of the piece sustains as the brothers physically collect themselves, controlling their bodies, but as that note carries out, we, the audience, are given one more jolting shot of their grief.
The Secret Garden is all about damaged people being saved from themselves, and when we finally see and feel the garden that the little girl Mary Lennox produces from her own loneliness, we acknowledge our own spirit and resolve being prodded back to life. Without biting, deep grief there cannot be great, radiant joy. When you hear the final strains of "Come to My Garden" at the end of this show, it is "Lily's Eyes" that has laid the foundation for reveling in what the release of heartache and tears provides: peace and maybe, just maybe, hope.