Little Women, a musical adaptation of Louis May Alcott's novel that nearly made it to Broadway this season is readying for its first test in front of an audience. Feb. 8-18 the musical gets a workshop production at Durham, North Carolina's Duke University. All performances at the 100-seat, black-box Sheafer Theatre in the Bryan Center are sold out, according to Duke spokesperson Anna Upchurch, reached Feb. 6.
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 in 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 is 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. 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. Wreghitt was a producer of Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery and an associate producer of Broadway's The Real Thing.
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