The Peck School of the Arts is poised to bring us another great musical tomorrow in the form of “Little Women.” The musical, based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, tells the story of Jo March as she struggles with her budding writing career, her lessons on how to be a lady, and her three sisters in Civil War era Concord, Mass. What follows is a romance-filled, coming-of-age tale, with the sharpness and emotion of Jane Austen’s novels and the stories that flow from Jo’s pen.
The director, Rebecca Holderness, along with the rest of the cast and crew were gracious enough to let me sit in on a tech rehearsal. Holderness said that the faculty-supervised performance has students taking different roles in addition to acting ones, including assistant director and assistant choreographer. She also said that the show has been over development for four to six weeks.
I could feel the energy radiating even through the doors to the theater. The space was abuzz with Holderness taking notes, the piano player checking her music, crew members checking lights, and actors either performing on stage or preparing their lines for their next entrance.
That same energy can be felt throughout the performance from the entire cast. The main actors held the weight of the play’s dialogue with professionalism and grace; every funny and serious moment felt genuine. Despite the smaller role of the ensemble, their pantomime, including skating and slipping on an icy pond, brought the scenes to life. And the chemistry between everyone was felt throughout.
Much like the novels of Jane Austen, the musical gets its power through its simplicity and subtlety. The Blackbox Theater is dotted with only a few pieces or furniture. The minimalistic staging makes the themes and characters even more relatable and powerful without any of the distractions of glitz and glamour.
“The play was chosen for this particular setting because it’s quite an intimate story,” Holderness said. “It’s nice for the audience to be close to the action.”
The sparse stage also allows for multiple sets, without the need of complicated scenery changes. This simplicity is felt not only through the stage, but through other facets of the performance as well. The costuming, as stated by Holderness, “includes both contemporary and period elements.” For example, the men wore period suit jackets over their jeans.
This reflects the themes of the show itself, including female empowerment and following one’s passions; which can be applied to any time period, even today. Even though they only have a single piano, the singing of the actors sounds so good that they almost become their own instruments with the help of Alyssa Rhode, the music director. And the choreography by Darci Wutz is low key but still has enough symbolism and energy to drive the songs and the story. It then swells up to spectacularly dramatic proportions in the numbers based on Jo’s writing, which involve the entire cast.
Even though I only saw the middle of the show, I am already impressed with the great work that the cast and crew has done. Through its simple charm and powerful writing, “Little Women” is very much a force to be reckoned with, much like the novels that inspired it. You’d have to have no sense or sensibility to miss this great performance.
“Little Women” is performing at Kenilworth Studio 508 on March 4, 5, 6, and 7 at 7:30 p.m. along with matinee performances on the 7 and 8 at 2 p.m.