Community Players of Salisbury presenting 'Little Women: The Musical'

By Susan Parker
Posted 11/1/22

Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” written and published during the 1860s, is on its face a story about four sisters who were coming of age in New England during the later years of …

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Community Players of Salisbury presenting 'Little Women: The Musical'

The four sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” which is being performed this weekend at the Wicomico High School Auditorium in Salisbury.
The four sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” which is being performed this weekend at the Wicomico High School Auditorium in Salisbury.
Community Players Photo
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Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” written and published during the 1860s, is on its face a story about four sisters who were coming of age in New England during the later years of the American Civil War. The familiar story follows the lives of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy ­­– and is loosely based on the real lives of Alcott and her three sisters. Jo March is a character based on author Louisa May Alcott herself, and the story is told through Jo’s perspective.

The story has been adapted for stage, film and television. The Players’ production is musical theater.

“Actor Michael J. Fox once said, ‘Family is not an important thing, it’s everything,’ and that quote embodies the classic story ‘Little Women’,” said Darrell Mullins, who is directing the Community Players production of the musical. “The question is whether home is a place of comfort or a reminder of what inhibits our dreams ­– ‘There’s no place like home’ vs. ‘You can’t go home again.’”

While that is the overriding theme, it’s not the only one. Unexpected and startling themes await the thoughtful or curious reader or viewer. Restrictions placed upon individuals, especially women, by the norms of 19th century society clash with personalities, aspirations and expectations throughout the story.

“The story is relatively loyal to the book,” said Darrell Mullins, who is directing the production. “It’s the story of four sisters who come of age during the Civil War. Jo is struggling to be who she wants to be, while at the same time dealing with the societal norms of the day in Massachusetts. She is fierce, determined – some might say pushy – and fiercely loves her family.”

So yes, family is central to the story, but the clash between the societal norms in the American mid-1800s culture also plays a central role. Jo is a character who was ahead of her time, fighting for recognition as a professional writer – and more fundamentally, for the right to. It’s a battle that continues to play out around the globe today.

Jo is played by April Curry of Salisbury, who has been involved with Players for about a year, appeared in “All Together Now,” a musical revue and nationwide campaign to revive live theater after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as several other Players productions.

“Little Women” is Curry’s first lead role with Players.

“I think the fact that Jo is so dynamic,” said Curry, “presents a challenge. There are so many facets to the character and I want to capture all of her facets without getting lost.”

The story opens after Jo has moved to New York City and is staying at a boarding house. Another resident of that boarding house is Professor Bhaer, who teaches German and is a relatively new resident of the United States. Jo, who aspires to be a professional writer, has fielded more than 20 rejection letters, and Professor Bhaer has agreed to critique Jo’s story. Jo is reading her manuscript aloud to the professor.

The professor listens, then suggests she should write about what she knows best. What she knows best, of course, is her childhood life with her three sisters.

Curry, who has served as assistant state’s attorney in Wicomico but will be moving to a different county soon, feels a real connection to Jo.

“As a young female in a challenging career,” she said, “it’s fun to play such a strong female character. Jo has the kind of personality I would look up to and admire.”

The musical score, written by Mindi Dickstein and Jason Howland, includes everything from upbeat group numbers and ballroom dances to powerful belting out, emotional ballads and love songs.

The March sisters’ mother, Marmee, is played by Maria Demetriou, who moved to the Lower Shore a decade ago from the Philadelphia area, where she worked professionally with off-Broadway productions.

“Marmee is a pillar of the family,” said Demetriou, “a very put-together woman who adapts to her surroundings as necessary. I expected her to be a little softer, but she is much stronger than she lets on in public, in keeping with the societal norms of the era.”

Amy, the youngest March sister, is played by Alana Troxell of Pocomoke City. It’s her 10th production with Players.

“But I’m not the youngest actor among the sister roles,” said March, who is 20. “Amy is the most vivacious sister, but she loves her family. She and Jo fight a lot. Both are headstrong characters.”

Amy goes to Europe with Aunt March, who is played by Alyssa Mullins, and comes home engaged to Laurie, who was previously expected to marry Jo.

“I love her spunk,” said Troxell. “She is innocent but just as annoyed by life as her sisters, especially when she’s told she’s not old enough to go to the ball. Anyone who has or is a younger sibling will relate to this role. We say really mean things to each other despite loving each other.”

Professor Bhaer, portrayed by Luke Schoellkop, is the professor in the opening act who is listening to and advising Jo.

He said he enjoys the musical aspects of the show, which in his case is often about the evolving relationship between his character and Jo. An early solo expresses his frustration about their relationship, but hints of wanting more.

“At the end, he proposes to Jo,” said Schoellkopf. “He’s also the first one to critique Jo’s writing, and is part of the impetus for her to improve her writing.”

One of his favorite songs is called “Small Umbrella in the Rain,” which is not really about umbrella size or rainy days.

“It’s a love song to Jo,” said Schoellkopf. “The introverted professor uses metaphors to confess his love for Jo and also to relate to her as a writer. It’s such a beautiful gesture of his love.”

One of his biggest challenges is playing someone who is twice his real age.

“Jo tells him he looks 50,” Schoellkopf, who is 18, said. “Another challenge has been learning a German accent, both speaking and singing.”

Avalai Swinehart, 15, plays the role of Beth. Like the character, Swinehart plays piano. Her theater experience until now has been with Theater Academy of Delmarva, which performs at the Marva Theater in Pocomoke, where Swinehart lives.

This is a very different role for her, but also a familiar story.

“’Little Women’ is one of my favorite books,” Swinehart said. She is currently reading “Jo’s Boys,” the last in a series of four books written by Louisa May Alcott, all of them about herself and her family.

“Beth is such a sweet character,” she said. “And I just love singing with a live orchestra.”

Mullins circles back to the themes of home, family and society’s norms.

“Will Jo follow her dreams or submit to society’s expectations?” he said. “Jo’s journeys to and from home force her to confront that struggle. Can she do both? This production answers that question. If you’ve read the novel, you know the answer. If not, you will have to wait until the final score.”

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