The musical Little Women embraces escapism

by Beacon Staff • December 3, 2008

Just in time for the holiday season, iLittle Women/i, a musical that focuses on the importance of family, makes its Emerson Stage debut. Under the direction of Emerson performing arts associate professor Scott LeFeber, Louisa May Alcott's literary work makes its transformation from novel to musical production.

Centering on the tomboy Jo March (Brittney Morello), the story follows her recollections of her childhood and adolescent years spent in Concord, Mass. with her three younger sisters and their mother-known to them as "Marmee" (Arianne DeCerb). With aspirations of becoming a successful writer in New York in order to provide for her financially strapped family, Jo drafts numerous scripts which she and her sisters act out in their attic. Fighting the societal expectations of what a "true" lady is meant to be, Jo falls out of good favor with her proper Aunt March, who in turn takes the youngest March daughter-the precocious and envious Amy (Abigail Gillan)-under her wing. Coping with the tragic death of a loved one also helps shape the family dynamic, as well as aids Jo in her personal independence.

As the story progresses, more life-changing occurrences help Jo become more resilient to pressures of her surroundings. Most notably, Jo becomes infuriated when her childhood friend, Laurie (Sam Simahk), proposes to her, an act she fears will ruin their friendship. As the tribulations of her frustrated youth unfold, the significance of family in opposition to individualism and personal success becomes more prevalent and enforced.

It is not until her work is poorly received in New York that Jo recognizes the importance of her home and reflects upon her more elated experiences with her sister and Marmee. It is at this moment Jo recognizes her years spent becoming increasingly distant from those she truly loved only embittered her and now she must rekindle her ties with her family.

Despite its literary roots, LeFeber said the musical version of iLittle Women/i tends to stray slightly from the lengthy novel's plot to accommodate the lyrical writings of Mindi Dickstein and musical talents of Jason Howland, who collaborated to comprise the score for the musical rendition. In an attempt to showcase a stage-friendly performance that modern audiences could find more relatable, certain characters are introduced at different times throughout the Emerson Stage adaptation. Similarly, events occur differently to allow for as much of the novel's plot to make its way into the condensed script. LeFeber discussed how the novel uses Marmee as the main character, whereas the musical presents everything from Jo's point of view. Regardless of these alterations, LeFeber said the same characters and overall plot that made Alcott's work a classic still hold true, and that audiences can expect nothing but an honest portrayal of this literary work.

Although the plot and much of the dialogue parallel Alcott's classic novel, LeFeber said the musical will not be quite as archaic as audiences may expect. Following similar Broadway trends of including more "pop" music (See: iPhantom of the Opera/i or iLes Miseacute;rables/i), LeFeber hopes that audiences will be able to appreciate the message the story offers while still enjoying the performances as a whole. Similarly, LeFeber commented that he hopes audiences will gain a new responsiveness for Alcott's novel while admiring the talent of the Emerson students.

LeFeber claims that as a director, he is always "stealing" aspects of his previous work and work of others to incorporate into his current show, commenting that you can "only teach what you know." In regards to his inspiration for both selecting this piece and directing it, LeFeber admits that his students are always in mind and offering immense contribution to his decisions.

In a season where Emerson Stage delivered several lesser known works (e.g. iThe Hundred Dresses/i and iLady Windemere's Fan/i), the well understood story of iLittle Women/i hopes to convey joyful escapism for audiences and, according to LeFeber, spark excitement for the Christmas holiday. LeFeber encourages everyone, both within and outside the Emerson community, to partake in this lighthearted performance of personal struggle and the value of one's home life.

ittle Womeni will be performing on the following days at the Semel Theater in the Tufte production and performance center:

Thursday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. (talk back)

Saturday, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m./i