ONCE AGAIN A MUSICAL ABOUT A plucky little orphan girl has captivated Broadway. No, not the oft-postponed Annie 2. It’s The Secret Garden, an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s classic about a Victorian waif whose spirit revivifies her melancholy uncle and sickly cousin as well as a passel of plants.
The show, with book and lyrics by Pulitzer-winning author Marsha (‘night, Mother) Norman and starring Daisy Eagan and Mandy Patinkin, will be up for seven Tonys at next week’s ceremony. Among them is one for the lushly melodic score by a Broadway newcomer named Lucy Simon. Whether or not Simon, 47, wins the award, her achievement is already a breakthrough: It finally puts her career on the same page as those of her sisters, mezzo-soprano Joanna, 50, and soft-rocker Carly, 45.
Does this mean that the three women have been competing all these years? Lucy acknowledges that they have had their moments—”How can there be siblings without rivalry?”—but recalls the frictions as mostly “of the healthy, creative sort.” In fact her entrée to the Garden party was in large part due to sister Joanna. As a cultural correspondent on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, Joanna in 1988 interviewed Marsha Norman, who mentioned that she was writing the book for a new musical. “Afterwards,” says Lucy, “Joanna asked, ‘Who’s doing the music?’ Marsha said they were still looking for a composer, so Joanna told her about me.”
Music has been a bond shared by the sisters as far back as their prenatal days. “My mother sang to us during her pregnancies,” Lucy says. “Schubert, Handel—mainly Brahms.” In addition the New York City—born daughters of Andrea and Richard Simon (he cofounded the publishing house of Simon & Schuster) number among their uncles three who were singers or musicologists.
In the early ’60s, while Joanna began training for the opera, Lucy and Carly teamed as the folkie Simon Sisters. Club dales led to a 1964 album, from which a novelty single, Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod, crept onto the pop charts. Three years later Lucy married David Levine, now a Manhattan psychoanalyst; her act with Carly petered out after the births of Julie, now 21 and a recent graduate of Yale, and James, 19, who just completed his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin.
In the early ’80s Lucy and David produced a Grammy-winning Sesame Street LP featuring songs by pop stars (including then brother-in-law James Taylor). Lucy also began composing. “Singing is the main instrument I use,” she says. “Eventually I will go to the piano to finish a song, but the first inspiration will almost always be vocal.” Lucy acquired the rights to adapt Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books into a musical and tried for almost a decade to bring it to Broadway. Undeterred, she contributed to a well-received 1984 off-Broadway revue, A…My Name Is Alice.
The Secret Garden, which recounts a young girl’s magic-tinged search for acceptance and love, is drawn from a book that continues to sell some 300,000 copies a year. In addition to the difficulties of adapting such a beloved tale, notes Norman, ” ‘magic’ and ‘secret’ are easy words to write but difficult to bring to life. Lucy’s music was the bridge.” Despite mixed reviews, the $6.2 million production—one of the priciest made-in-the-U.S. musicals ever—is drawing well at the box office. But Lucy hasn’t been hanging out at the theater counting the receipts. She’s currently commuting to New Haven for workshop rehearsals of her next project, Fanny Hackabout-Jones, a musical based on Erica Jong’s picaresque 1980 novel. “This one,” she says, “is not for children.”
ANN GUERIN in New York City