For Waco Civic Theatre executive director Eric Shephard, adding “Little Women the Musical” to the theater’s summer schedule was a pretty obvious programming choice.
Famous and beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott as its source material? Check. Positive message of female empowerment and family love? Check. Music? Check. Plenty of roles for female actors? Check.
Shephard remembered hearing about the 2005 Broadway musical while in the Baylor University theater department from a student who had attended an oral workshop of the piece. While the Broadway production that evolved from the workshop did not draw the audience its producers had anticipated, the years that followed showed it struck a chord with audiences across the country when presented on tour and regional productions.
“Everyday people really loved the stage production,” Shephard said.
The musical compresses the familiar story of the March family women — sisters Jo (Tori Christensen), Meg (Krystal Marshall), Amy (Kaleigh Huser) and Beth (Ally Varitek) plus their mother Marmee (Kelly McGregor) and Aunt March (Kami Ellis-Yasko) — as they maintain their Massachusetts home during the Civil War while their father is away serving as a Union Army chaplain.
The daughters have distinct personalities and their lives diverge as they grow older and find their own ways in the world. Spirited Jo wants to be a writer. Oldest Meg is happy as a mother with children. Self-centered Amy longs for the social world while Beth, the youngest, sees her future constrained by illness. There’s love and relationships ribboned through the women’s lives, with neighboring friend Laurie Laurence, German professor Friedrich Bhaer (Jeremy Stallings) and quiet, but hard-working tutor John Brooke (Trey Shonkwiler).
They tell their stories in part through songs, with music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. Music director Marissa Carlson provides the instrumental support on keyboards and Shephard said his 10-person cast is uniformly strong.
“There’s not a person onstage that I have the slightest doubt about their singing and acting ability,” he said.
The musical runs for two weekends beginning Friday at Waco High School’s Richfield Performing Arts Center, which has hosted previous Waco Civic Theatre summer productions. The venue has a greater seating capacity than the community theater, allowing more space for social distancing. The theater asks any audience members not vaccinated for COVID-19 to wear masks.
Shephard said the final two performances of the Waco Civic Theatre’s children’s production of “Disney’s Descendants: The Musical” sold out, and he hopes theater audiences are beginning to come back after almost a year’s absence due to COVID-19 considerations.
“Little Women the Musical” is the theater’s last production with general admission seating. Seat-specific seating will start with its next show. The theater also is selling season tickets for the 2021-22 season.