Stritch and Gibson Help Read Operatic Little Women, April 23-24

News   Stritch and Gibson Help Read Operatic Little Women, April 23-24 Remember last season, when two musical versions of The Wild Party made it to New York stages? Well, 2001-02 could see a similar situation, as two versions of Little Women work their way toward the footlights. One, by Allan Knee (book), Jason Howland (music) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics), nearly made it to Broadway this season but, owing to a creative overhaul, put off its plans and did a tryout in North Carolina instead. Now another has popped into view.

Remember last season, when two musical versions of The Wild Party made it to New York stages? Well, 2001-02 could see a similar situation, as two versions of Little Women work their way toward the footlights. One, by Allan Knee (book), Jason Howland (music) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics), nearly made it to Broadway this season but, owing to a creative overhaul, put off its plans and did a tryout in North Carolina instead. Now another has popped into view.

The second Little Women, also based on Louisa May Alcott's novel of a close-knit early American family, features music by Dan Redfield, lyrics by Christina Harding and John Koladziej (pronounced Ko-LO'-jay), and a book by Stephen Hooker and Ralph Lucas. That show will get two private industry readings, April 23-24, at NYC's Century Center. Though John Engstrom is directing the project, Bruce Winant will stage the readings (because Engstrom's currently directing Evita in Taiwan).

Begun in 1996, Little Women workshopped at CA's Ventura Court in 1999 and last year at FL's Pepperdine Unniversity and Musical Theatre West. The hope is to bring Women to Broadway in the autumn.

This Little Women might have slipped past the radar had it not been for two name actresses taking part in the readings: Elaine Stritch, of Company, Sail Away and Show Boat renown, will be the comical Aunt March, while singer-actress Deborah Gibson (Les Miz, Beauty and the Beast) will play Jo. Also in the cast are theatre and TV veteran Teri Ralston as Marmee, Jack Betts as Mr. Laurence, Theresa Finamore as Beth (the "Sondheim Album") and Kristi Holden as Meg.

If none of the creators' names rings a bell, it's because their credits tend to be more academic than Great White Way. Composer Redfield's penned scores to Dangerous Liaisons (staged at UC San Diego) and The Wraith, as well as film scores. Harding is a classically-trained singer; Koladziej is an actor trained at Stella Adler and NYU. Last year he appeared as Sky Masterson in a Moorpark Theatre Guys and Dolls and as Salieri in Amadeus, both in L.A. A press release for Little Women promises an almost operatic approach, "abandoning musical theatre conventions to propel the story through song." Co-lyricist Koladziej told Playbill On-Line April 18 that the score would have "a very Americana feel, very Copland-esque, but a traditional `musical' feel as well. It also incorporates film-style montages and flashbacks." Songs in the show include "Fly Away," a big ballad for Jo March when she decides to leave home and pursue her career as a writer; "The Pickwick Portfolio," in which all the sisters collaborate on their own newspaper; and "Ode on Aunt March's Urn," sung by Aunt March.

According to Koladziej, some West Coast-based producers have signed on, and the creators are hoping New York backers will help raise the $8 million necessary to mount the show on Broadway in the fall. Asked if six months away wasn't a bit optimistic a time-frame for a new musical, Koladziej said, "We've had a lot of attention from backers and whatnot. We'd like to try it out over the summer, but that depends on who we become involved with. We've also gotten quite a response from our demo CD."

Asked whether the other hovering Little Women will pose a hindrance to their Broadway plans, Koladziej said, "We don't let that affect us too much. I've never seen it or heard it. They say, though, that our two works are such completely different entities, despite using the same stories and source material... We've been working with Louisa May Alcott's estate, and our goal is to create the definitive musical adaptation of `Little Women.' "

— By David Lefkowitz