Spotlight to Shine on Female Performers During ‘Astonishing’ Musical Production of Little Women at MC
Lyric Stage at MC will bring Louisa May Alcott’s cherished coming-of-age novel to life – in musical form – during four stage performances featuring full orchestra accompaniment and authentic period costumes.
“Little Women,” the semi-autobiographical story of the four March sisters’ struggles with poverty and relationships while growing up in New England during the American Civil War, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, March 30-April 1, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 2, in the Jean Pittman Williams Recital Hall in the Aven Fine Arts Building at Mississippi College.
Audiences will experience a wide range of emotions while they follow Jo’s quest to become a published author, Meg’s early marriage and sudden family, Amy’s journey to nurture her artistic desires, Beth’s waxing and waning health, and Marmee’s efforts to counsel and protect her daughters through personal triumphs and tragedies.
“This is a full theatrical production with an absolutely fantastic cast,” said Nicholas Perna, associate professor of voice pedagogy and Lyric Stage at MC producer. “Jo wants to be a writer. She wants to inspire people. She wants to dream big dreams and tell the story of her family while their Dad is gone fighting in the war. The sisters experience heartache, they experience loss, they experience joy, and, eventually, even love, although it takes Jo a while to come around to that.
“The audience should bring their box of tissues, but also prepare to be inspired.”
Perna said the musical adaptation of Little Women was selected as this spring’s production because of its opportunity to showcase the many talented women who participate in MC’s musical theater and opera productions.
“We had many great female performers who were in Lyric Stage at MC’s ‘Godspell’ last year,” he said. “We thought it would be a good fit for them to do this production this season.
“Little Women is a very popular story,” he said. “Similar to the book, the musical is from Jo’s perspective. She’s an outstanding storyteller, and that’s what we look for in a great musical.”
The characters in Little Women are so rich that most of the roles have been double-cast: patrons who attend subsequent performances will be treated to an almost entirely different set of actors each night. Perna said the practice is common for theatrical productions in academic settings.
“It allows us to give more actors opportunities to perform,” he said. The entire cast boasts more than two dozen actors. “We try to double-cast whenever we can. We have a full “Gold” cast and a full “Blue” cast that will each get two performances.
“Both casts are excellent and unique because they create different aspects for the show.”
Maria Guay, one of two cast as Jo, said Little Women remains one of her favorite stories. While watching a recent screen adaptation of the book, the senior English writing major from Ponchatoula, Louisiana, said she felt like she was watching her own life on film.
“I have three older sisters, so the dynamic of the March sisters hits close to home,” said Guay, a featured soloist in Godspell who serves as the social media intern for Lyric Stage at MC. “Although I’m the youngest of my sisters, I’ve always seen myself as the Jo of my family. She’s a dreamer but has the determination to achieve those dreams. She’s a writer. She’s quite stubborn and direct. She feels things intensely and is not afraid to do what she wants and live life in her own way.
“I also understand her struggle to accept that her family is changing, and she can’t do anything about it. I’ve watched my sisters move out and get married . . . my sister is preparing to become a mother, and I’m getting ready to graduate and start my own life. It’s been special to connect with my character in such a unique way, and it’s also been cathartic to process what is going on in my life through what Jo is experiencing in hers.”
Annalee Crawford, one of two Marmees, said the musical version of Little Women captures the essence of Alcott’s work extremely well.
“This show has a rollercoaster of emotions, and I want the audience to experience the depth and emotion that the characters are feeling,” said Crawford, a graduate student from Clinton who is in the Master of Music in Voice Performance and Pedagogy Program at MC. She has performed in a series of opera scenes in “What Dreams May Come,” “A Picnic in the Country,” and “Old Maid and the Thief.”
“Marmee is a very strong, brave, and loving person. The most challenging aspect of the role is showing the different layers of Marmee’s character. Although strong, she also has moments of deep longing and sadness. She does not often show this side of herself to her daughters. Showing her strength and longing simultaneously can be challenging.”
Liz Cox, who also portrays Marmee, agrees. The second-year student in the Master of Music in Voice Performance and Pedagogy Program from Southern Pines, North Carolina, said the most challenging aspect of the character is finding a way to put herself in Marmee’s place.
"I am not a mother living through the Civil War with a husband who is a chaplain in the Army, so finding ways to understand how intense those emotions are is challenging at time," said Cox, who has been a featured soloist in “A Picnic in the Country” and “Godspell” and is head of fundraising for Little Women. “Marmee is one of my favorite characters because her love for her children and her ability to stay strong in the face of hardship reminds me of my own mother and grandmothers.”
Cox said the music written for the character attracted her to the role.
“It is emotional and raw, and gives us a chance to see her at her most vulnerable,” she said. “She is a very strong female character trying to stay stable for her family while in the midst of pain and loss. Her two songs allow us to peel back the curtain and see that she, too, is suffering, even while holding everything together.”
Marmee explains to Jo how she copes with personal tragedy in “Days of Plenty.” Along with “Astonishing,” Jo’s Act One finale, it’s perhaps the best-known of the production’s musical pieces.
“Even though the production is a bit of a star vehicle for Jo, because the March sisters are such a tightly knit family, Little Women still is an ensemble show where everyone gets an opportunity to shine,” Perna said. “Every single named character has a great singing moment or duet.”
He said the authentic set features a fireplace that sets a realistic tone for the production.
“It creates a hologram effect of a fire that looks spectacular,” he said. “As the audience walks in, they will be welcomed into the March house, where the fire is burning already.
“The set for this show is impressive.”
As are the individuals Perna credits for working behind the scenes to ensure the integrity of the show. Jamie Ertle, adjunct faculty in the Department of Music, serves as stage director; Beth Everett, director of choral activities, serves as music director; and Camden Clem, an English literature major, serves as stage manager. Perna said the trio has kept the production on schedule throughout the semester.
“All three of these women have done spectacular work,” he said, “not to mention my graduate assistants and a whole host of people who have helped tremendously.”
To commemorate the performance, Perna commissioned award-winning textile artist Natalie Novacek to design and produce a handmade quilt with the Lyric Stage at MC logo embroidered on the back. It is the grand prize of a special drawing that will help defray production costs.
At 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Lyric Stage at MC will host dinner at the newly renovated Latimer House on MC’s campus, including a preview performance of a pair of songs from the production, followed by the show in Aven.
Although Alcott’s novel was written more than 150 years ago, Guay said 21st-century audiences still appreciate the story because of its universal message.
“Little Women, at the very basic level, is a story about family,” she said. “It reminds us that we need family to succeed, and this isn’t exclusive to blood-related family. We weren’t created to be completely independent.
“This show encourages us to chase our dreams, even if it may bring us far from our home. But being able to accomplish the things we want is only possible when we appreciate those people who love and support us through the highs and lows.”
Perna said Lyric Stage at MC’s performance of Little Women is something of a revival – the Music Department produced the musical on campus in 2010.
“MC’s 2022 Young Alumnus of the Year, Ezekiel Andrew, played Professor Bhaer in that production,” he said. “This is a wonderful chance for our audience to come and see our next generation of Broadway stars.”
General admission tickets cost $25 each or $10 for students. To purchase tickets, click here. Little Women Soiree tickets cost $100 each. To purchase tickets, call Dottie Serio at 601.925.3440. Tickets for the quilt drawing cost $20 each. To purchase tickets, click here.
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