Little Women, a musical adaptation of Louis May Alcott's novel, is readying for a workshop production at Durham, North Carolina's Duke University, Feb. 8-Feb. 18. Casting is complete and tickets are currently onsale (at (919) 684-4444).
Kerry O'Malley, a Duke alumnus, plays Jo in the show. She, Robert Bartley (as John Brooke), Megan McGinnis (as Beth), Joe Machota (as Laurie) and Robert Stattel (as Mr. Laurence) all participated inthe April 6-8 readings and will go on with the production. Several other actors in those readings, including Jan Maxwell (The Dinner Party) and John Dossett (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), had other commitments and couldn't stay with the show. New names in the cast include Catherine Brunnel (as Amy), Mary Gordon Murray (as Marmee) and Rachel Hardin (as Meg). Veteran actress Jane Connell had been announced as Aunt March, but the role is now played by Rita Gardner, an original cast member of The Fantasticks. Allen Fitzpatrick plays Professor Bhaer.
Little Women will be directed by Nick Corley and choreographed by Jennifer Paulson Lee.
The show had been all set for Broadway this fall but then stalled in Boston and underwent a creative overhaul. Writer Allan Knee and new songwriters Jason Howland (music) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics) tried to put a revised version of the show together in time to open this season, but there were too many creative and business details to sort out (not to mention a traffic jam of shows already booked into existing Broadway venues).
Still, the work on Little Women continued, and the show will receive a workshop at Duke as part of the school's Theatre Previews at Duke (which also developed the Broadway-bound A Thousand Clowns and the nearly-made-it-to Broadway Birdy). Commercial producers Dani Davis (a Duke alumnus), Randall L. Wreghitt and Ken Gentry will oversee the bare-bones workshop, with a regional tour to follow. Producer Wreghitt told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 15, 2000) that tour stops, dates, full casting and other details would be worked out shortly. Theater Previews' managing director Zannie Voss said in a statement, "We're expecting that the show will change nightly, and we'll be observing audience reaction about changes," further elaborating on her statement in December 2000, when she said, "The focus of this workshop will be to develop and test new material and to polish the flow of the piece." The target will be a Broadway perch in 2001-2002.
Little Women had been announced for a Sept. 22-Oct. 8 tryout at Boston's Wilbur Theatre and a late-fall opening at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, but that was put off to spring owing to business details of the changeover from one songwriting team (Kim Oler and Allison Hubbard) to another (Howland and Dickstein).
The business details of bringing on new collaborators after cutting loose the original songwriters kept producers Wreghitt and Davis so busy they weren't able to plan for the fall staging, according to a spokesman. The sentimental coming of age story about sisters growing up in Civil War-era Boston made headlines in spring 2000 when Wreghitt replaced the show's songwriting team five months before its planned Boston tryout. Up to that point, Little Women, a Richard Rodgers Development Award winning project, had been shaped for years by lyricist Allison Hubbard and composer Kim Oler, who apparently initiated the project.
Composer Howland and lyricist Dickstein were handed the songwriting duties following a March-April 2000 workshop and reading which showed Wreghitt, according to a report in Newsday, that Oler and Hubbard "couldn't take the show where it had to go" artistically. Hubbard and Oler declined a Playbill On-Line request to speak about the matter.
According to a production spokesman, the score will be entirely new and not use any Hubbard-Oler material. Allan Knee (Syncopation) remains as book writer.
Prior to stepping in as composer, Howland was one of the Little Women producers, but he dropped his producer role to concentrate on the music, a spokesman said.
Producer Wreghitt previously told Playbill On-Line that the Little Women script crossed his desk the same time he was embarking on his first Broadway producing venture, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The timing wasn't right for him to address Little Women, but his interest lingered for two years. He said he was struck by the humanity of the piece, by book writer Knee, composer Oler and lyricist Hubbard. "I think it's real and so applicable to the real world to men and women," he said. "There are universal truths [in Little Women]."
The novel follows the four March sisters in New England during The Civil War. They spar, they grow, they have their first brushes with romance and one, famously, dies. Another, Jo, becomes a writer.
Following script circulation and a 1998 reading at the York Theatre Company, Little Women earned a reputation as a warm, rueful family show. Those who saw the York reading recall the plaintive Hubbard lyric sung by the girls' mother, who compared her brood to a garden. She sang of losing one child to an early frost.
Wreghitt was a producer of Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery and an associate producer of Broadway's The Real Thing.
For tickets ($7-$10) and information on the Duke workshop of Little Women, taking place at the Sheafer Theater in the Bryan Center call (919) 684 4444.
The booking of Little Women at Duke takes the place of the aforementioned A Thousand Clowns, which had planned to start in NC in February and reach Broadway in April. However, a Broadway theatre crunch pushed the Herb Gardner play's schedule forward, and now that show will start at Duke in May, tour briefly, and reach Broadway in July.
— By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones