Behind the scenes: “Little Women” required plenty of work to thrill audience

 

Little Women: The Musical brought a new twist to the familiar story by Louisa May Alcott. The classic and beloved tale of the March sisters growing up in Concord Massachusetts sparked laughter and sadness, too. The actors were strong in their roles and able to take command of the stage and use to the set to their advantage.

Before Little Women even began, the play had to be chosen and the world of the play created.

Director of Theatre Tammie McKenzie, Designer/Technical Director Jim Brothers, vocal music director and orchestra director Brent Schloneger and artistic director Johnny Russell began collaborating over the summer about which musicals were an option to perform.

After Little Women was chosen, Brothers began set design.

“I get a script and start breaking it down for things like scenes, and seeing which scenes are more important,” Brothers said.

Once Brothers knows the different scenes, he bases how he builds the set on the frequency of the scenes and how important they are in the play.

The women of Little Women: (From left) Sophomore communication arts major Bethany Howell played Marmee, the mother of the four March sisters; senior zoo and wildlife biology major Julia Belden played Meg; junior intergrated langauge arts major Caitlin Pickard played Jo; and junior psychology major Amanda Jacobson played Beth. (Photo by Kaitie Fox).

Brothers said that the design of this play, with its folding and swiveling walls, was his own idea in order to adapt to the school’s theatre.

It was a brilliant set that was able to show the March house, the boarding house where Jo meets the professor and even the Moffit house.

Brother’s described his process for creating a set.

“I then go to my little grafting table and start working out ideas,” Brothers said. “You draw things out … start working the equations that you  need. And after that I am  still in talks with Johnny, who is the director of this play, about the style and the time period.”

Each set is drawn and crafted into a miniature model of the set.

“I always say a good design should be noticed for about ten seconds,” Brothers said.

Brother said the audience should accept it and be able to go back to the action of the play.

The set took about 5 ½  to 6 ½ weeks. Brothers had to finish the major work sooner because the orchestra sets up and plays in the workshop.

About 60 students came in to help build the set. Students were from Introduction to Theatre, First Company and also volunteers.

Brothers said he was always grateful for any students that came to the theatre to help.

Brothers said it is always a challenge to build because of classes using the theatre during the week but the set construction was able to stay on schedule.

Much of the supplies are borrowed from other theatres and universities. Brothers said  a lot of the materials for Proof (the show from last year) were reused for these sets.

Brothers said that he tries to be as frugal as he can to keep the cost down. Including the cost of royalties, costuming and set design, the total cost of the play was thousands of dollars.

[pullquote]“I always say a good design should be noticed for about ten seconds,” Brothers said.[/pullquote]

Once the world was created, the actors could perform.

“It was a lot more adventuring than anything I had done before,” senior zoo and wildlife biology major Joshua Setty said. Setty played Professor Bhaer in the musical.

Putting on a musical is very different from a play. There is a lot of work that must go into the preparing.

“When we first started rehearsal we were here from about six to 10 … until it got later and later closer to the show,” freshman communication arts major Jeremy Clarke said. “The latest we went was until 12:30.”

The first few weeks of rehearsal were just with music, and then blocking the scenes started.

Junior intergrated language arts major Caitlin Pickard, who played Jo March, was a very strong solo vocalist. The actors’ voices resonated very well and blended together in the duets and chorus pieces, also. The musical has very demanding songs for the characters but many of the characters were able to carry the notes.

Junior communications major Mike Lawson and junior psychology major Amanda Jacobson sing "Off to Massachusetts" together. The song occurs as a motif in the play. (Photo by Kaitie Fox)

“We concentrated a lot more on the music and concentrated a lot less on the scene work,” junior communication arts major Michael Lawson said. Lawson played Mr. Laurence in the musical.

The songs helped to accompany the acting in a very genuine way. The choreography to the songs was not overdone or too elaborate. Setty said that when working with the music and the scenes all movements need to be much bigger and stronger than life or even than a typical play.

“Even the small things have more energy,” Setty said.

The most stunning parts of the play was when the characters acted out the story Jo March (played by Pickard ) wrote. The actors played characters in a play-within-a-play with sweeping gestures and facial expressions.

Another challenge to this musical was also the time period. The fact that it was set in Civil War Massachusetts meant that characters had to wear period costumes and adapt to the lifestyle of the people.

“A period piece was different having to adapt to their mindset of the 1800s,” Clarke said.

The costuming also brought the story to a whole new dimension. Some of the women had to wear hoop skirts and petticoats as a part of their costuming.

Pickard said that most of the rehearsals took place without the hoop skirts and petticoats. She said it was a challenge to learn to go through door and even learn to sit.

“You had to learn to sit a certain way so that  the hoop skirt didn’t go over your face,” Pickard said.

Pickard also said that “the costumes made it seem like I really was in the Civil War era and not in the present time.”

The women wore the costumes very well and made it appear as if it was natural to wear floor length clothes and hoop skirts. Make-up was worn by all the actors to prevent their faces from being washed out by the stage lights.

“The make-up was horrible, with the base and powder, and the hairspray was inches think in my hair,” Lawson said.

There were three freshman in the cast starring in the roles of John Brooke (freshman youth ministry major Jacob Owens), Mrs. Kirk (freshman nursing major Amanda May)  and Laurie (Clarke).  They performed very well in their debut on the Malone stage.

Sophomores playing Marmee (sophomore communication arts major Bethany Howell) and Aunt March (sophomore zoo and wildlife biology major Amy Milhalik) also performed a great debut onto the school stage.

Overall, it was entertaining and a joy to watch.

Little Women: The Musical was a job well done to all the actors—both those who were experienced and those who were new to the school stage.

Lisa Heath is a senior staff writer for Aviso AVW. 

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