They're Ba-ack: Little Women to Workshop at NC's Duke, Feb. 2001

News   They're Ba-ack: Little Women to Workshop at NC's Duke, Feb. 2001 Thought you'd heard the last of Little Women, eh? The musical adaptation of Louis May Alcott's novel 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).

Thought you'd heard the last of Little Women, eh? The musical adaptation of Louis May Alcott's novel 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 now the show will receive a workshop at Durham, NC's Duke University, Feb. 8-17, 2001, 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 happening in February 2001, with a regional tour to follow. Producer Wreghitt told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 15) that tour stops, dates, full casting and other details would be worked out in January.

Zannie Voss, managing director for Theatre Previews, said in a statement (Dec. 15), "...we were approached recently about co-producing a workshop at Duke as part of a regional tour as the cast prepares for a Broadway run in 2001-2002... The focus of this workshop will be to develop and test new material and to polish the flow of the piece."

Kerry O'Malley, another 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. New names in the cast include veteran actress Jane Connell, featured in Crazy For You, as Aunt March, and Allen Fitzpatrick as Professor Bhaer. The aforementioned readings also featured Jennifer Gambatese, Lucy Martin, Jan Maxwell and Becky Watson. The roles of Amy, Meg and Marmee have yet to be cast for the Duke and succeeding stagings.

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. Little Women will be directed by Nick Corley and choreographed by Jennifer Paulson Lee.

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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.

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Some observers thought the production team was pushing it by putting together a new score in less than six months (between the spring workshop and September tryout), but such a Herculean task is 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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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 after Jan. 10, 2001.

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