The Secret Garden

The historic Ruffin Theatre invites you to trim back the weeds and join it in a special place as “The Secret Garden” comes to the stage on Feb. 15.

“This is the most intricate musical program in the modern Ruffin’s history,” said assistant director Adrianna McWilliams. “We started rehearsals at the beginning of the year with our typical three-a-week setup. We bumped it up to five not long after to help fit in the songs, the choreography, and their integration with the story.”

No small feat when you consider the show’s auditions and casting fit neatly into is six-week prep phase, including set construction and rehearsals. Microphone assignment and live rehearsal only came the week before opening night. 

Director Rick Perry gave his cast a crash course in proper operation, in part to give those without prior experience a rundown of the equipment as well as ease his job behind the soundboard.

“This green light means your mic is live,” Perry said as everyone looked to their battery pack. “If the light turns red, you muted yourself. Don’t do that. If your mic needs muted, I can do it from up [at the soundboard].”

Other than a slight issue with feedback from a speaker, likely caused by the proximity of equipment, and a minor glitch with one mic that proved easily fixed, the tech introduction ran as smoothly as the production thus far.

“Even with the extra session to cover technicalities in the music and routines,” McWilliams said, “things have gone great. The cast came together and has done everything we’ve asked of them and more.”

And the cast? While almost 29 strong, the principal cast brings a sense of authenticity to the familiar storyline. Father and son Archibald and Colin Craven, for instance, are played by father and daughter Tim and Rachel Brown. Lily Craven and her brother-in-law Neville? Played by Jessica McCollough and Dustin Troxel, whose current relationship state shows the unrequited love Neville felt for Lily is unreflected in real life. Archibald and Lily? Not such much husband and wife; more uncle and niece. That does not include family members behind  the scene or in the supporting cast.

Lily Kozlosky takes center stage at Mary Lennox, the orphaned lead of “The Secret Garden.” A sophomore at Brighton High School and member of the marching band on French horn and mellophone, “Secret Garden” marks her (roughly) fifth show with the Ruffin. She auditioned solely for the role of Mary and plans to continue her pursuit of the arts once in college with a theater focus, possibly in a New York institution.

Tim Brown, known for his work with the Ruffin in the past (both acting and directing) takes on Archibald Craven, Mary’s uncle and guardian after the untimely death of her parents. Brown’s last appearance with the Ruffin came from the director’s chair with “Dearly Departed” in the autumn of 2018. Unfortunately, he took ill the week before opening night of “Secret Garden” and recuperated to bring his talents back to the light by showtime. 

Rachel Brown, Tim’s daughter in reality, plays his son Colin, an invalid who forms a close bond with his cousin. “Secret Garden” makes her second show with the Ruffin, the first “Spamalot” from March 2018. A Brighton High junior, Rachel also plays clarinet in the marching ban. She initially auditioned for the role of Mary, much like Kozlowsky, but remained open to the role she landed, Colin. Also like her on-stage cousin, she is more inclined toward musical roles, but plans to pursue nursing at the University of Memphis after graduation.

Jessica McCullough, a native of Brighton, is one of two cast members with an additional arduous task aside from her role: An hour-long trek from Collierville to the Ruffin five nights a week. “Secret Garden” is her first show ever, her formative years instead spent, in her words, as a tomboy. 

“I’m used to performing, just more along the lines of sports and pageants, not necessarily stage.” 

McCullough became a fan of the musical about a year ago and fell in love with the role and character of Lily Craven. Sadly, this show is likely to mark her only appearance on stage this season: Her duties as an air-traffic controller tend to eat up a considerable about of waking hours and her leave is planned well in advance. She would not, however, rule out another appearance, should all things fall in line.

Dustin Troxel is the second cast member with that hour-long drive to and from rehearsals as Neville Craven. He previously performed in “Les Misérables” and worked behind the scenes as a light and sound tech. “Secret Garden” makes his second leading appearance and first with the Ruffin. His days start around 6 a.m. as he gets ready for his day in sales with Legacy Billiards before he and McCullough drive to Covington. By day’s end, the clock reads almost midnight, just enough time to rest before it all starts again.

“Secret Garden: The Musical” with run Feb. 15 - 17 and Feb. 22-24.

Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10, unless you happen to be under the age of 4, in which case you enter free of charge. Come join the cast and crew as they ring in the 2019 shows at the historic Ruffin Theatre.

Echo Day is The Leader's managing editor. To contact her, call 901-476-7116 or email eday@covingtonleader.com.

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