Musical Little Women Has Big Changes, and Some Heartbreak

News   Musical Little Women Has Big Changes, and Some Heartbreak The heartbreak of the plot of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" is echoed in the heartbreak surrounding the making of a new Broadway musical version of the story.

The heartbreak of the plot of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" is echoed in the heartbreak surrounding the making of a new Broadway musical version of the story.

Producer Randall L. Wreghitt (The Beauty Queen of Leenane) has replaced the songwriting team of the new tuner five months before its Boston tryout. 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, but producer Wreghitt replaced Hubbard and Oler with composer Jason Howland and lyricist Mindi Dickstein following a March-April workshop and reading. 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.

The musical is set for a Sept. 22 first performance at Boston's Wilbur Theatre prior to a Broadway opening of Nov. 16. A Broadway house has not been announced.

Prior to stepping in as composer, Howland was one of the Little Women producers (along with Dani Davis), but he has now dropped his producer role to concentrate on the music, a spokesman said.

Oler and Hubbard are in negotiations with the producers about the material, presumably whether or not they will get a cut of the gross and/or if they will be able to use their songs for another version (the novel is in the public domain and any songs not linked specifically to the Knee libretto might have a future life in another musical version). Hubbard and Oler declined a Playbill On-Line request to speak about the matter. Wreghitt was not immediately available for comment, although he told Newsday he believed Hubbard and Oler "couldn't take the show where it had to go," so the new writers were needed.

Presumably, the original songwriters had the option of having their work augmented by another team, which would have retained at least some of the original score. Some speculate Oler and Hubbard wanted "all or nothing" of their score in the show.

For now, whatever appeared attractive to Wreghitt and his investors in the first place will not be heard when Little Women plays Boston's Wilbur Sept. 22-Oct. 8.

Putting together a new score in four months is a Herculean task, but not unheard of: Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein were under a strict deadline -- several weeks -- for Wonderful Town, which became a hit in 1953.

And it's not unheard of for songwriters to be brought into an existing musical project: Jerry Herman gave in to David Merrick's contracting of Bob Merrill for Hello, Dolly!, for which Merrill penned "Motherhood March" and "Elegance," with refinements by Herman. Also for Dolly!, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams wrote a song called "Before the Parade Passes By," which Herman took the title of and wrote anew, according to Steven Suskin's book, "Show Tunes" (Oxford Press).

Similarly, Maury Yeston was brought in to inject tunes into George Forrest and Robert Wright's Grand Hotel.

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For the April 6-8 readings, Nick Corley directed a cast of 10, and Corley and company are expected to be part of the Boston and Broadway production. The cast included Robert Bartley, John Dossett, Jennifer Gambatese, Joe Machota, Lucy Martin, Jan Maxwell, Megan McGinnis, Kerry O'Malley, Robert Stattel and Becky Watson.

Wreghitt previously told Playbill On-Line that the 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.

Wreghitt said the private workshop presentation is both a pre production glimpse of the show and an opportunity to court producing partners. 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 is a producer of Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery and an associate producer of Broadway's The Real Thing.

Musical staging for the workshop was by Jennifer Paulson Lee. Constantine Kitsopoulos musical directded.

-- By Kenneth Jones