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The ‘Secret’ of adaptation

January 31, 2011

Published by Metro

Adapting a book for the stage is a daunting task, especially when it’s a classic like “The Secret Garden.” There’s much to consider: what plot points to emphasize, which to cut, and, perhaps most difficult of all, how to convey a character’s thoughts through action.

During the creation process, Wheelock Family Theatre co-founders Susan Kosoff and Jane Staab were committed to keeping their winter musical, “The Secret Garden,” as true to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1919 novel as possible.

“That said, you can’t have all the descriptions,” says Kosoff, who wrote the script, lyrics, and directs the show. “You have to incorporate them into the dialogue. You have to make physical a lot of what happens in the book through description.”

Kosoff chose not to rely on a narrator to feed the audience story background. That way, she keeps the story’s focus on its young characters, for the benefit of the show’s young audiences.

“This is a favorite story of children,” says Kosoff. “They’re very rigid about things staying true.”

Staab, the production’s composer, didn’t have to worry so much about audience preconceptions: “I just took the book and sat down at the piano,” says Stabb, explaining how she comes up with the music.

Plot points

Newly orphaned Mary moves into her uncle’s gloomy estate. She hears about a mysterious garden. With help from her bedridden cousin Colin, she restores the garden’s magic. “There are not just good messages for kids, but messages maybe adults should be reminded of,” says Kosoff.

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