Arts, Community, Live Theater, Park Forest

The Secret to Drama Group’s Secret Garden – Talented Child Actors

Derek Diehl, Stella Hoyt, Colin, Mary, Secret Garden, Drama Group child actors
Derek Diehl (Steger, IL) playing Colin and Stella Hoyt (St. John, IN) who portrays Mary Lennox. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)
By MaryLee Hoganson

Chicago Heights, IL-(ENEWSPF)- When director Mary Lee Hoganson was selected to mount The Drama Group’s upcoming production of The Secret Garden, she knew that the greatest challenge to success would be finding just the right child actors who must carry the weight of this production.  And find them she did!!  This time-honored musical, which will be produced April 28-30 at Bloom Auditorium in Chicago Heights, is firmly anchored by the talents of Stella Hoyt (St. John, IN) who portrays Mary Lennox and Derek Diehl (Steger, IL) playing Colin.

The Secret Garden first appeared in serialized literary form in 1910.  British author Frances Hodgson Burnett was at the time, the most widely read and well-paid female author in the world, the J.K. Rowling of her time.  In 1991, composer Lucy Simon and lyricist Marsha Norma created a magical Broadway musical based upon this most beloved of children’s classics; one that garnered five Tony Awards that year, including one for Daisy Eagan for her portrayal of Mary.  Eagan who was, at age 11, the youngest actress ever to win in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category.

Though based on a children’s book, The Secret Garden is not a musical written primarily for children. Instead, it is a story of grief and love, of secret places that exist within all of us that, when nurtured, can allow us to find ourselves reborn.  The story follows 10-year-old Mary Lennox after she loses her parents, and the shuttered life she has known, to the cholera outbreak in Colonial India and is sent to a dreary manor on the moors of Yorkshire to live with her reclusive Uncle Archibald (Gil Oliva of Crestwood, IL).  Archibald has mourned the loss of his wife, Lily (MaryRose Nicholas of Evanston, IL) for 10 years and has shut off his son, Colin, as an invalid from the world as a result.  As Mary explores her new environment, she discovers not only Colin’s forbidden room, but also Lily’s “secret” garden that has also been walled off from life. As she restores this magical place — assisted by rustic characters, creatures and charms of the garden — the story blossoms into one of redemption and rebirth.

Of her young actors, director Hoganson says, “At the ages of 9 and 10 respectively, Stella and Derek are not children playing at acting. Instead, they are amazingly mature and skilled actors who happen to be children.  They appear in virtually every scene, sing several of the most memorable musical numbers, and both portray characters who experience major transformations.  In more than 30 years of directing, I have never worked with actors whose instincts for the characters they portray were more genuine and convincing.  Their wonderful voices capture every haunting nuance of the music. And it doesn’t hurt that they are absolutely darling together!!”

Stella Hoyt is a third-generation Drama Group performer whose mother, Meghan Hoyt, portrays her Secret Garden mother, Rose.  Stella aspires to become a professional actress and recently appeared in The Theater at the Center’s production of Annie Warbucks in Munster, IN.  Derek Diehl came to The Drama Group, through the theatre’s summer children’s training program.  “Both have unlimited potential and are well on their way to whatever theatre path they may chose,” says Hoganson.

Because Hoganson wished to inject a few more elements of the original children’s classic to the musical, Hoganson has added several other children to the stage as story tellers, including Christina Multholam (Orland Park, IL) and Sian Stephen (Orland Park, IL), both age 9 who are training as classical Indian dancers.  A cast of veteran adult actors rounds out this production’s ensemble of 27.

Performances of The Drama Group’s production of The Secret Garden are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 28 and 29, and 2 p.m. April 30 at the high school, 10th Street and Dixie Highway in Chicago Heights. Tickets are $21 for adults; $20 for seniors and $15 for students with ID. Group discounts are available. For additional information contact the box office at 708-755-3444 or order online at