By Lauren Jurgemeyer
Under the direction of graduate student Alex Rodriguez, Texas State opens Little Women, The Broadway Musical Nov. 19 and runs through Nov. 24 in the Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre.
Based on the classic novel by the same name, the Tony award-winning musical follows the March sisters as they struggle with gender and society norms in the mid-1800s. The show opens in New York City where Jo March (Bella Coppola) is trying become a published author. Living in Mrs. Kirk’s (Camille Duvall) boarding house, Jo struggles with rejection after rejection from different publishers.
With the help of the ensemble, Jo reads her story to Mrs. Kirk and fellow boarder Professor Bhaer (Jake Young). Bhaer offers his criticism which sends Jo into a nostalgic spiral to a Christmas at home in Concord, Massachusetts, where she first decided to be an author.
At which point the audience meets the March sisters in their entirety for the first time. Meg (Maura Gill), Beth (Emily Edwards) and Amy (Ashlyn Maddox) join Jo in the attic where they rehearse an operatic tragedy.
Coppola’s Jo is vibrant and well defined. The audience watches as her character arcs across the two acts, growing from a naïve teen to a young woman. Coppola said that she originally had approached Jo with a youthful energy and spunk, but under the guidance of Rodriguez she changed her approach.
“I am a real person, and so was Jo, and we are more alike than I anticipated,” Coppola said, “so I find that the more I bring my own personality and perspective to Jo, the more I understand the role.”
Beth (Edwards) is the peace-keeping sister, who Edwards plays as soft, maternal and poised. While all the sisters share a bond, Beth and Jo have something special. Edwards said she was lucky that the novel detailed much of Beth’s demeanor and how she thinks.
“Since day one, the novel has been a constant source of inspiration for me,” Edwards said. “We can’t forget that these characters are based off of real people.”
According to Ashlyn Maddox (who plays Amy), she the farthest from her character. Maddox said that she is the eldest to two brothers in comparison to Amy who is the baby of the March family. Amy and Jo are constantly butting heads and Maddox said that Amy, at least in the first act, acts as an antagonistic younger sibling.
Laurie, the neighbor of and close friend to the sisters, is played by Collin Trudell. Trudell said that he researched the real people who were is Louisa May Alcott’s life. In addition, Trudell also used his personal experience by drawing from his personality when he was 15 or 16-years-old.
“I researched Alf Whitman, who was Louisa May Alcott’s childhood friend and the inspiration for Laurie, to see what he was like in real life,” Trudell said. “In working on all of this, I found that my teenage self was actually really similar to Laurie in a lot of ways.”
Laurie lives with his grandfather, Mr. Laurence (Beau Harmon), after losing both his parents. Mr. Laurence is a very cold man who is the neighbor of the March family. Hardened by the loss of his daughter, Laurie’s mother, Mr. Laurence is a pessimistic brood.
To me, a stand out connection in the show is between Beth (Edwards) and Mr. Laurence (Harmon). The two share an unlikely friendship, and aids to soften Mr. Laurence from a harsh old man to a misunderstood grieving grandfather.
The show is about relationships, whether they romantic, parental, friendly or something different entirely. The characters and their bonds are fleshed may they be between the sisters or Marmee (Emma Kessler) and her daughters.
Madeleine Bourgeois, a member of the ensemble, said that the relationship that the sisters have with their mother is the epitome of unconditional familial love.
“The musical deals heavily with the strong bonds between a family,” Bourgeois said, “whether or not they are directly in each other’s presence.”
With stellar performances by everyone in the cast, Texas State’s Little Women, The Broadway Musical is a must see this theatrical season. The strength of the cast is equally matched in the technical aspects of the show.
Cheri Prough DeVol designed the set drawing inspiration from the expression of Victorian women. She said that she wanted to marry a sense of the past and present by putting a modern twist on traditional Victorian style and architecture. DeVol said that the set has to be structured to pass as multiple locations that transforms around the character.
“This is Jo’s story, and it is the story of a women who wants to step outside of the traditional feminine role and to express herself through writing,” DeVol said. “I started thinking about the ways in which Victorian women were allowed to express themselves. Things like embroidery, cross stitch samplers, and silhouette portraits became a way for me to create pieces that could move us easily through multiple locations while creating an environment that fits with the light and lyrical style of the piece.”
Costume Designer William D. Ward said that they decided that each of the sisters had their own world of color. Dependent on their personalities, Ward assigned each of the characters different color schemes.
“Meg, romantic and soft, translated to light shades of blue and teal,” Ward said. “Amy being bold and high spirited, creates this world of pinks and purples. Beth the gentle and nurturing much, like her mother Marmee, lives in greens and warm browns. Jo was the only sister that doesn’t quite live in this world of flowers, especially being the root of all the characters. She has been put in colors like reds, auburns and browns.”
Ward said that they based their design on flowers in the way that flowers can be from the same group of seeds but they are still individuals. They said that they see the March sisters as seeds living in the same flowerbed, and as time goes on they bloom into their own flowers.
“I think Little Women allows us to remember the personal connects we have in our lives,” Ward said. “Family, friends, significant others. The bonds and personal ties in which we create in this world are always going to be the strongest assets we have.”
This run of Little Women is nearly sold out! The production runs Nov. 19 through Nov. 24, tickets are available online, by phone at (512) 245-6500 and at the box office an hour prior to the show. For updates regarding seating follow @littlewomentxst on Instagram and @txstmt on Facebook.
Photos by Lauren Jurgemeyer. Video by Lauren Jurgemeyer and Raven Correra