Secrets From The Pit Of The Secret Garden

When the musical The Secret Garden opens this Friday at the Civic Theatre in Allentown, many characters will take the stage, but there’s one you’ll never see in the spotlight. It’s a bird!

In the song “Show Me The Key,” Mary (the main character), is looking for the key to unlock the secret garden, and she encounters a robin, played by the flutist. It’s a magical moment in a timeless musical that has touched young and old.

It’s hard to believe that composer Lucy Simon wrote the score more than twenty-five years ago. Little did she know that The Secret Garden would eventually be regarded as one of the best musicals of the late-20th century.

Initially, the critics didn’t know what to make of the show, but the public embraced it with enthusiasm. For some of today’s biggest Broadway stars, seeing The Secret Garden was the first moment they realized that musical theater was going to be their future.


Composer Lucy Simon started her career in music as a singer-songwriter with her sister Carly being the other half of the “Simon Sisters.” Here she is on Donahue, right before the premiere of her musical.

When she became a mother, Lucy stopped performing, but as she turned forty, she was ready for a new challenge. Last year she told Steve Schonberg of the Huffpost:

“I felt as a singer-songwriter I was too wrapped up in my own story, and I wanted to branch out and tell other people’s stories, which were much more interesting than mine at that point.”

Librettist Marsha Norman won the 1991 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. Lucy Simon was nominated for Best Score, and the entire show was nominated for Best Musical that year.


As a flutist, I’ve played many musicals, but none of them have me play as many instruments as The Secret Garden. They are from left to right:

– Tunable panpipes (2 octave, G-G)
– F penny whistle
– D penny whistle
– Bb penny whistle
– D tenor penny whistle
– sopranino recorder (F)
– soprano recorder (C)
– alto recorder (F)
– piccolo
– C flute
– alto flute (G).


The Secret Garden has to be one of my favorite shows to play. My part provides challenges not found in most other shows, and it also makes for practically non-stop playing. Since I love a good challenge, it’s a perfect fit.

The flute part calls for eleven different instruments in the flute family, with some songs requiring as many as five instruments in quick succession. Each instrument offers different nuances in tone color to achieve just the right effect for the moment.

On top of that, each set of instruments (penny whistles, recorders, flutes) has its own fingering system and key, and each instrument within a group has slight variations in the fingering. Of course, something like this requires careful preparation and planning.

Flutes in the pit of The Secret Garden
A tight fit in the pit


Chances are that you won’t see me during the performance. The pit at the Civic Theatre is almost a full story below the stage, and it’s completely covered over with just a hole for the stairs. That means we’re hidden to the audience. It’s quite dark and small, and musicians don’t have a whole lot of room to maneuver (and that’s an understatement). Fortunately, extra instrument stands, instrument cues in the score, and careful “choreography” make for a smooth performance (fingers crossed!).

I’d love to see you during intermission, so, let me know when you’re coming, and I’ll climb up during the break.


What makes this show particularly enjoyable is the other fifteen professionals I’m playing with. Working with fine musicians who care about their craft really elevates an already exciting experience.

Musical director Frank Anonia knows the score inside-out. During the first orchestral rehearsal he surprised everyone by singing ALL the cast parts himself! He’s one of the most organized and effective rehearsal conductors I’ve ever worked with, and he takes this performance to a whole new level.

You can find all performances of The Secret Garden in the Event Calendar in the upper right-hand side of this blog. We have twelve afternoon and evening performances from October 6 through 22. Pick the date you’d like to come, and click on the link. It will bring up information about the show, as well as the location of the Civic Theatre.


One last fun fact. At every performance there will be three keys hidden under three different seats in the theater. If you’re lucky to find one of those keys, go to the concession stand after the show, and you’ll get the book this musical is based on.

And finally, please like the Facebook page of the Civic Theatre. That way, you’ll have access to behind-the-scenes interviews, photos, and videos from the show.

I’ll see you in the Garden!

Meanwhile, bring some music into your life!