The Secret Garden's Celinde Schoenmaker: 'It's a musical that deserves so much more attention'
Even though The Secret Garden is a three-time Tony Award-winning musical, the two London productions of the musical have only played for a collective total of 22 weeks. But, it's coming back to the West End in style, thanks to a concert production coming to the London Palladium next month.
Based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's best-selling novel, the musical tells of a young girl sent to England to live with family she's never met, with music by Lucy Simon and a book and lyrics by Marsha Norman.
Soon to play Lily, a motherly ghost who guides her niece Mary to the beautiful garden, we spoke to Celinde Schoenmaker about her personal history with the musical, what it takes to stage a musical production like this and why this musical deserves pride of place in London's West End.
The Secret Garden tickets are available now.
Can you tell me a bit more about Lily’s character in The Secret Garden?
Lily used to be Archibald's wife, but now she's a ghost haunting the estate where she once lived. She's trying to reconnect with Archibald [played by Ramin Karimloo] in a beautiful story of rediscovery, love and people living in the past and how they hold onto the past.
What drew you to appearing in the concert?
It’s one of my favourite shows ever in the history of the world. I’ve done this show when I was at school in Holland, it was our graduation show. We all studied the musical and funnily enough, I was Lily! The music is one of the most hauntingly beautiful scores in my opinion, it's just so gorgeous.
You must have a favourite song from the show then?
You’ll hear a version of "Come Spirit, Come Charm". Others might say the solo numbers including "Where In The World?" and "How Could I Ever Know?" but "Come Spirit, Come Charm" is a classically written song with different influences. It’s a really hard song to sing too, so we’re going to need all the rehearsals cause it’s so complicated.
What’s the rehearsal process like for a concert like this?
You’re sent the score prior to rehearsal and you’re off-book when you go in. The only thing that’s hard to learn prior to rehearsals are the group numbers, so you have to put time in to them. There’s usually a format, but you just tend to follow the story. These scores are written so well that in order for it to be a clear story, you have to make sure you portray the characters, say the words and give the right intention. We don’t need big scene changes or anything, there’s very few scenes. It’s all driven through the music.
You’ve performed in previous concerts including Doctor Zhivago, are there challenges with staging a concert?
You have less time so you have to figure out the character very quickly. For some reason, it’s always a worry to think of how it’s gonna work, but it always comes together. Concerts like this are an enjoyable, lifting experience. You wanna make sure that it’s clear but all the songs are presented correctly. The pay off is usually going to see a really special event. There’s something in the air that you don’t get when you see a show that’s been running for a year. There’s only two performances of The Secret Garden, and it's a musical that deserves so much more attention than it’s got. It’s truly beautiful.
Are there any cast members you’re particularly excited to work with?
I can't wait to hear Ramin Karimloo and Ben Forster sing their duet “Lily’s Eyes”, I mean... who doesn’t want to hear that. They could totally be brothers too! I feel so lucky that we get to do this show with great people that are also fun to work with. I can’t wait to sit down and hear the whole score be performed, I’m as excited about seeing other people play their roles as I am to play Lily.
In the show, Mary explores a garden. But, where’s a place that you’d love to explore?
Oh my god, New Zealand. And Australia. Even when it comes to work, I take living in the moment when travelling to a whole new level. It’s in the nature of the beast. If you want a job, you need to book a holiday because you’ll always get something.
Why should people see The Secret Garden at the London Palladium?
When you’re in the theatre industry, you see a lot of theatre and I love seeing new pieces. But this is one of those shows. There’s a reason why it’s stayed with me and made a huge impact. It’s changed the way I look at shows.
Solely on my enthusiasm from this show, I feel like you need to give The Secret Garden a chance to appreciate just why it’s so good. It’s a gorgeous love story about letting go that's driven by emotion.