`Secret Garden' as children's musical. Songs, good acting in productions from Theatreworks/USA

The Secret Garden A musical by Theatreworks/USA, adapted by Linda B. Kline and Robert Jess Ross from Frances Hodgson Burnett's book; directed by Mr. Ross. Starring Meghan Rose Krank. It's rare to find a family theater group that's really for the whole family. Theatreworks/USA is such a group - one that holds the attention of the smallest members without putting mom and pop to sleep.

Theatreworks/USA was founded by Jay Harnick and Charles Hull 27 years ago, and so far the company has performed more than 21,000 times to 17 million people in 49 states. The plays are usually portrayals of historical figures, adaptations of literary classics, or works concerned with social or other current issues.

Sounds dry and boring? Not on your life! Theatreworks productions are full of humor, wonderful songs, and fine acting.

The new Theatreworks/USA season here at the Promenade Theater opened with a musical version of the popular children's book ``The Secret Garden,'' by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The story concerns Mary Lennox, a spoiled orphan who is sent to live with her uncle Archibald in England, in a remote and spooky manor.

She soon hears about a garden, hidden away behind a locked gate, that harbors a secret from her uncle's past. Mary finds the key to the gate, and then strikes up a friendship with a good-natured chap named Dickon, who helps her cultivate the run-down garden.

Later on, she finds her invalid cousin Colin, who has been locked away from his father by a mean-spirited relative named Montague and his grasping companion, Medlock. As the story progresses, the evil motive behind Montague's and Medlock's actions against Colin is revealed, but the magic of the garden ends up changing all their lives.

From start to finish ``The Secret Garden'' has just the right degrees of humor, drama, and suspense to keep things rolling.

The simplest of sets, moved about on stage by the actors themselves, leaves just enough to the imagination of the audience. The music, by Kim Oler with lyrics by Alison Hubbard, echoes Stephen Sondheim's work, with its interwoven melodies and clever turns of phrase.

Meghan Rose Krank, in the role of Mary, captures the bratty gestures and attitudes of the willful Mary, as well as her transformation into a much nicer little girl. Robert Osborne is especially convincing in his double role as the guileless Dickon and the conniving but weak Montague. In addition to ``The Secret Garden,'' the company's repertoire includes ``Susan B!,'' a biography of suffragist Susan B. Anthony; ``A Charles Dickens Christmas,'' a fantasy about the famous author's discovery of the real meaning of Christmas, as he wrote ``A Christmas Carol''; the ``The Great Vaudeville Magic Show''; ``Freedom Train,'' about Harriet Tubman and the ``underground railroad''; ``Louis Braille,'' the story of the 15-year-old French boy who developed a reading system for the blind; and the popular ``The Velveteen Rabbit,'' about how a stuffed rabbit comes to life. All the shows are musicals.

In New York the shows are on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m., through March 5. Other casts are traveling across the US with these and other musical plays.

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