It’s been 150 years since the first publication of Louisa May Alcott’s novel about four young girls growing up in Massachusetts during the American Civil War. A semi-autobiographical work, Alcott’s novel has garnered millions of fans across the world spanning many generations, and it’s also inspired a number of stage and screen adaptations.
In 2005, Little Women arrived on Broadway in musical form, with a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The production starred Sutton Foster as Jo, a performance for which she received a Tony Award nomination.
A musical rarely seen on Australian stages, Little Women is the story of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – searching for their own voices. It’s also the next production by North Shore Theatre Company, arriving at The Independent Theatre on Friday 20 April for a limited season.
North Shore Theatre Company is one of Sydney’s longest running musical theatre companies (previously known as Chatswood Musical Society), having presented 145 productions over the past 67 years. It is, in fact, the second-oldest musical theatre group in Sydney.
Director Jon Emmett says the choice to stage Little Women aligns with the company’s ongoing efforts to present works not frequently chosen by musical theatre groups. He also speaks to the timeless themes of gender roles and individuality that make Alcott’s story as relevant today as it was to audiences in 1868.
“Some of our protagonist Jo’s biggest obstacles are the barriers and expectations in place for young women, and it is clear women in the 21st Century still face these challenges such as restrictions to career progression and inequalities in male-dominated fields,” Emmett says.
“The characters and the relationships are so powerful, and it’s really quite a joy to be able to explore these with everyone in the cast.”
Talking about key differences between the novel, the film versions and the musical, Emmett highlights the musical’s heightened focus on Jo’s writing ambitions. The musical includes the staging of the ‘Operatic Tragedy’, one of Jo’s stories.
“The musical gives audiences a chance to see what’s inside Jo’s head,” Emmett says.
“So, the actors get the opportunity to play multiple roles – they get to play their roles in the story, but they also get to play an operatic role in the ‘Operatic Tragedy’.”
Emmett says he’s thoroughly enjoying working with the cast to develop these characters. It’s a cast of both experienced actors and new faces. Playing the lead roles in the production are Kathy Xenos (Jo), Georgia Burley (Meg), Ally Foy (Beth) and Hannah Paul (Amy).
“[Kathy] and I are working together quite closely to really explore Jo as a character and let Kathy bring her to life on stage,” Emmett says.
And what’s the biggest challenge he’s facing as director of Little Women?
“Physically adapting it to the stage at the Independent Theatre is probably my biggest challenge,” Emmett says. “We have a modest set budget, so there’s not going to be any flying helicopters in this production.”
So, who should come along and see North Shore Theatre Company’s Little Women?
“Anyone who loves musicals will like it,” Emmett says. “It’s a musical they might not have seen before and [don’t get the chance to see] all that often.
“[It should also appeal to] anyone who’s interested in a story about a young girl growing up and finding her place in the world.”
Tickets at www.northshoretheatrecompany.org
LITTLE WOMEN – SHOW INFORMATION
Dates: Friday 20 to Saturday 28 April, 2018
Location: The Independent, 269 Miller Street, North Sydney
Tickets can be purchased online here