Becoming an overnight sensation at an early age is daunting for any actor, but the harder path to follow is segueing into adult roles. Now just imagine how it must have felt when the casting team on a revival of your smash hit Broadway show denies you the opportunity to return to Broadway in a revival of said show. That’s what happened to Tony-nominated Andrea McArdle, who played the title role in ANNIE in 1976 when she auditioned to play the orphanage matron Miss Hannigan in the last Broadway revival. But Daisy Eagan at age 11, charmed critics and audiences alike in the original Broadway cast of THE SECRET GARDEN in 1991 became the youngest actress to win a Tony for playing young orphaned Mary Lennox. Ms. Eagan opens tonight in The 5th Avenue and The Shakespeare Company’s revisited revival of THE SECRET GARDEN, in the featured role of housemaid Martha. This musical features a Tony Award winning book by Marsha Norman, with music by Lucy Simon and lyrics by Ms. Norman. Directed by the 5th’s David Armstrong, it has won stellar notices and packed houses in Washington, D.C. with plans to transfer to Broadway next season. Daisy gifted SGS with an insightful and engaging interview on her path between the two gardens.
David-Edward Hughes: I saw you as Mary in 1991 and became a huge fan immediately.
Daisy Eagan: Thank you so much.
DEH: What was the process that brought you into the original Broadway production?
Daisy Eagan: Oh goodness! I went through the cold audition, and then I think two call-backs, with the second being in front of the whole creative team. I was young enough at that point to not really be too nervous; It’s different as you get older and there’s more riding on it, so I was lucky to sort of be naïve. The theatre company that was initially to do the show out-of- town cancelled, they went bankrupt I think. We did a 29 hour reading, and then we did a workshop for backers and producers in the fall of 1990. Then we started rehearsals for the Broadway production in Winter 1991. So it happened relatively quickly. I’m fortunate to have been part of the development production back then, and now we’re sort of redeveloping it. It’s really amazing. It’s fun to do revivals anyway, but to have the chance to do it with the original creators and having them to continue to make improvements and changes, it’s really fun.
DEH: I’ve heard that the original show had lots of changes in rehearsals and previews.
DE: Yeah, it did. From the original reading that we did there were a whole lot of songs that ended up getting cut, that got changed. I remember some of them and I don’t remember others….I don’t think there were characters who got cut, but obviously dialogue got changed, tightened, “how do we say this more succinctly?” kind of thing. There always are a lot of changes when you are developing a piece, but it’s really fun to do that sort of thing, if you’re lucky enough to do that.
DEH: As much as the show in previews then delighted me, I know the sort of weaving in and out of locales and who became ghosts, was a bit confusing for some audience members. Two mature ladies next to me actually said “You seem to be enjoying this, a lot….can you tell us what it’s about.
DE: Oh dear, how awful! (laughs) Actually after we opened we made some changes, after the reviews came out, which is really, generally, unheard of. But guess the producers believed enough in its potential to let us continue to make changes. And I think the changes we’re making to it now are to clear up about the ghosts, and those storylines.
DEH: You opened in a season when the competition for Best Musical was THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND and MISS SAIGON, all great shows to see, and except perhaps for WILL ROGERS FOLLIES very revive-able. And now MISS SAIGON is back on Broadway, and THE SECRET GARDEN and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND are heading back.
DE: I know! Wouldn’t it have been amazing if all three shows had come back the same season? It was a different time when so many theatres were shuttered back then. In fact we may have been the only new musicals that season, though I’m not sure. (In fact the only two other new musicals were BUDDY:THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY a popular Jukebox score musical and the short-running musical version of SHOGUN). This season we have some insane number of new musicals coming in, which is really sensational. And Comden and Green were theatre legends, and THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES was their last show, their last opportunity so everyone knew they won best Music and Lyrics as more of a career appreciation. But really, Lucy and Marsha deserved those awards.
DEH: Can’t argue with you there. You were literally the new bright young star of that season. Was that exciting, scary, daunting?
DE: It was all that to a degree, I guess. But my parents were extremely practical people, and I didn’t have that much history in theatre, so I didn’t really know what to be excited about and what it all really meant. I didn’t have much perspective. I was still going to school and in some ways trying to be a normal kid. My parents worked hard to maintain some sense of normalcy. But, that said getting whisked off to luncheons and getting to buy fancy dresses, and sort of being “the toast of the town” was certainly different from what I had been used to!
DEH: In all my years watching you win the Tony’s that night, and having some formidable competition, seeing your amazed and touchingly emotional and surprised reaction is indelible in my brain.
DE: Aww, thank you. I was shocked! My Mom had drummed it into my head that they don’t give awards to kids. I think she didn’t want me to get my hopes up, so I was really, really not expecting that. It was a total shock.
DEH: Have you stayed closest to many of that company’s cast?
DE: I would have to say my closest friend has remained Kay Wallbye, who played Mary’s Mother. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding! And John Babcock who played Colin. Thanks to Facebook I have reconnected with many, if not all the others.
DEH: Was winning the Tony and the acclaim in your youth a positive or negative for you in later life?
DE: It was both. It certainly has helped me in terms of my career. I quit the business in 2007, and was gone for almost 4 years, and I didn’t have to start again from scratch. There’s always someone who will represent a Tony winner. So that was nice. But in a lot of ways, I think I had become a little arrogant, a little big for my britches. I didn’t think I had to study or train because I didn’t have to do that before, and I won an award. I just didn’t know enough. I was naïve, got a little too big a little too fast, and so I think for many years I carried around a lot of resentment when my career didn’t go like I would’ve expected it to. It took me many years to come to terms with that, and see my role in that, and claim responsibility for my part in it. And to understand that training is important, and it never ends, and a good artist is always learning and trying to improve. Especially when it comes to your voice which is a muscle that needs to be trained and worked out, and can’t be ignored. You have to constantly be training, so I needed to learn that in my own time. I didn’t have the normal path most people have of struggling, and training and trying. I just sort of succeeded so fast that I had to kind of do everything backwards. But I’m grateful, because I gained the kind of perspective that not a lot of people get to have. I actually enjoy auditioning now! Whereas I used to hate it and resented it and it was the worst! Now I really see auditions to perform, and make choices, and they’re fun, not some giant terror show, which they were for many years.
DEH: How did the road to this new life in SECRET GARDEN open up?
DE: In February 2016, Manhattan Concert Productions staged a concert presentation of The Secret Garden at Lincoln Center for two nights. I campaigned to be Martha in that production, very hard, I launched clandestine twitter campaigns, had social media friends tweet things, all kinds of stuff. Finally I had the opportunity to basically throw myself at Marsha and Lucy’s feet, and I did! Fortunately I had some stuff on You Tube that they could look at, to see if I still had a voice. At that point even, I would have been terrified to have to audition for this because there was a so much riding on it, and so much history. They saw whatever they saw on You Tube and decided I was okay for it, thank god, and called me up 24 hours later after I threw myself at them and offered it to me. And that again was another shock!
DEH: And that lead to this production, which really opened to tremendous response in DC, and after here will go onto Theatre Under The Stars in Texas, and then….?
DE: I think a couple of other bookings as the run up before Broadway.
DEH: Besides career, you also now bring to this production your own experience going from a young woman to now being the proud Mother of your own son. What is he like, and what can you brag on?
DE: I have a little boy, his name is Monty, he is about 4, and he is the best kid that ever lived. I know I’m a little biased, but objectively speaking it’s true.
DEH: Do you see him following in your footsteps?
DE: Yeah, unfortunately, it’s undeniable. I don’t know if he wants to be an actor necessarily, but he is super-duper into Rock and Roll music, and he is a scarily good drummer. He should not be as good as he is. It’s weird, and he blows his Dad’s and my minds every time. But he loves drumming, and he is a natural performer. And I think we are going to encourage that in a “be in your school band, start a band with your friends” kind of way. But I think we are going to try to keep him out of doing it professionally. But he started playing, and was amazing at it when he was two years old. The guy at the music store had a kid’s kit set up, and he said he’d never seen anything like it. And now, I’m like, why can’t you be into Math equations, or engineering, or something else. And it’s not that I regret the life I have had, I wouldn’t have had Monty if I hadn’t had this life, but I wouldn’t encourage child professionalism on ANY level, chess prodigy, tennis, acting, whatever. And we spend so much of our childhood wishing we were older, and then we’re older, and we wish we were kids. Kids should be kids as much as possible; childhood is so fleeting as it is.
DEH: Any closing thoughts on what the road from headstrong young Mary to the soulful and wise Martha?
DE: Oh goodness. I didn’t really sink in, the enormity of it, till the night of the first Lincoln Center concert, when I said Martha’s entrance line “Well now, Mary Lennox!” And the audience, like fell apart. And that is when it really sunk in, that this is a big deal. I am having the opportunity to kind of retroactively heal a part of myself, and sort of do some psycho-emotional work that needed to be done and put some stuff to bed from that chapter of my life, as a kid. And to forgive myself for a lot of things. Martha knows that Mary needs to be heard, and loved, and told that’s she’s loved. And in some ways I’m able to do that to my younger self every night. I could be spending a lot of money in therapy, which is not to say that I haven’t spent a lot of money in therapy, BUT this experience is extremely therapeutic in that way.
DEH: Thank you Daisy, thank you, Mary and thank you Martha.
DE: Thank you, David, it was a pleasure.
The Secret Garden plays April 20-May 6, 2017 at The 5th Avenue Theatre (1308 5th Avenue, Seattle). Tickets start at $36 and may be purchased at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206-625-1900, or at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue, in downtown Seattle.