The 11-year-old Los Angeles native and self-professed “theatre nerd” (her favorite musical is Hamilton, she quickly answered) has been preparing for the role for most of her life, taking voice and dance classes since she was “three or four, somewhere around then,” Reynolds says.
But somehow The Secret Garden had evaded her until this casting, despite being a touchstone for many young musical theatre hopefuls—Daisy Eagan won a Tony Award at age 11 for her performance in the 1991 original Broadway production and still holds the record as the youngest-ever female Tony winner. But once Reynolds listened to the cast album, she was hooked. “The music is just so haunting and beautiful and moving. It’s some of the most beautiful music from any musical that I’ve ever heard—and that’s saying a lot, because I love a lot of musicals.”
Of course, Mary’s story in The Secret Garden is a tragic one, at least at the beginning. We meet the character as a spoiled little girl in British-occupied India whose entire family and world has been wiped out by a cholera epidemic. Mary, her household’s sole survivor, is sent to her uncle’s spooky mansion on the moors of Yorkshire, where she finds yet another home and family haunted by grief. But Reynolds, a plucky middle schooler with a charming old-soul sense of humor, still says she has lots in common with the character.
“She’s trying to find her way, find her family, find people she loves. She’s trying to find herself and grow into herself—no pun intended. And, I’m in middle school now, and I’m finding my way and finding my people.”
And, Reynolds is not worried about taking on the show’s themes of sadness—she’s prepared. Like the musical’s Mary, who chooses the secret garden as her “place where [she] can go when [she] is lost,” Reynolds has her own special refuge.
“We have our own garden in our backyard, and there’s this one area where I love to go. If I’m upset or I just need to think about things, I love to just sit in the pool of my own thoughts and have a peaceful moment.”
Reynolds will be joined onstage by Sierra Boggess, starring as Mary’s late aunt, Lily. Warren Carlyle is directing and choreographing the reimagined revival, which will feature revisions to the show from co-creators Norman and Simon. Performances are scheduled to run February 19–March 26, 2023, at the Ahmanson Theatre, with opening night set for February 26. Rob Berman will music direct.
The production has been in the works for Carlyle since at least 2018, when he was announced to helm a Broadway revival in the 2018-19 season that never materialized. A 2018 workshop of Carlyle’s staging streamed in April 2021 to benefit The Dramatists Guild Foundation and The Actors Fund, featuring Boggess as Lily. The stream was dedicated to the late Rebecca Luker, who played the role in the original Broadway company.
Based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, The Secret Garden features a book and lyrics by Tony and Pulitzer winner Norman and music by Grammy winner and Tony nominee Simon. The work was first produced on Broadway in 1991, receiving six Tony Award nominations and winning Best Book of a Musical for Norman, Best Scenic Design of a Musical for Heidi Ettinger, and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Eagan.