TOOELE — The Missoula Children’s Theatre is a touring company that show up in a new town at the beginning of the week, holds auditions Monday, rehearses like crazy for the next five days, and put on two shows Saturday afternoon. This particular production was an adaptation of the book The Secret Garden written and put to music by Michael McGill, but you shouldn’t attend expecting a faithful rendering of the book. Instead, if you show up ready to have your cuteness fix filled with singing, dancing, anthropomorphically costumed elementary school children, you’ll be in for a real treat.
The action begins with Detective Del, P.I. (Alex Kowalchick who is also the show’s director) who’s been sent to fetch the newly orphaned Mary Lennox from India and deposit her with her extended family in England. Whereas the original story focuses mainly on Mary’s interactions with her family once she arrives in England, this rendition adds choreographed fireflies, shrubs, geese, bugs, and moor folk who meet Mary at various points in her journey and teach her to appreciate the beauty of the world around her. When Mary eventually does arrive at her Uncle Archibald’s house, the play follows through with the usual whimsical story of The Secret Garden.
It doesn’t really feel appropriate to comment on the performances of any actors in this play. Mainly because that would simply be a cuteness contest, and they were all off the charts. In a play with more than fifty children wearing colorful makeup and creative costumes, each performing multiple musical numbers, you’re not going to get Broadway. But you will get to spend a charming hour. There’s the kid who can’t stop giggling, the kid who looks terrified out of his mind, about twenty kids who wave ecstatically to their friends whenever they’re on stage, the hams who are having the time of their lives, and the bored kid who is just biding his time until he can change clothes and go home.
Directors Alex Kowalchick and Erin Norlie were miracle workers to have managed coordinating so many children into a presentable performance in such a short timeframe. Accompanist Regina Kenison’s piano playing didn’t miss a beat and held the whole show together. Working with the Tooele City Arts Council and Tooele City Parks, Arts & Recreation, Missoula Children’s Theatre provided an unforgettable experience for all the kids involved and a treat for everyone in attendance.