Article by Lisa Purchase
Photo by David Defoe, defoe-photography.com
Mark Lingenfelter is stepping up to a big challenge in his Pit & Balcony directorial debut: he is directing the musical version of a favorite childhood classic, Little Women. "Everyone I talk to, that's the first thing out of their mouths ... 'Oh, I LOVED that book when I was a kid!'" says Lingenfelter. "No one ever just says they read it when they were a kid; they are all attached to it. That's a lot to live up to!" With that pervasive affection in mind, Lingenfelter has pulled together an able cast, a visually arresting set, and the script and score that together will do ample justice to the original time-honored tale by Louisa May Alcott.
Lingenfelter had never read the book before, but with so many people responding enthusiastically to the mere mention of it, he is currently reading the original book while directing the updated script. He says viewers don't need to be familiar with the book to enjoy the musical though; it stands on its own. Those who are familiar with the story will recognize their favorite scenes from the book, and while there are some differences, the changes only serve to enhance the best parts of the story.
Lingenfelter says the musical numbers add depth and interest to the story. The songs serve the story in several ways: some reveal further insights into a character by showing the character's inner thoughts and feelings to the audience, some further the plot by explaining a part of the story in lively song rather than dialogue, and, of course, a love song to adds dimension to the growing romance portrayed in this tale. One of the songs touches on the issue of a mother struggling to raise four daughters on her own, while her husband chooses to go off and serve as chaplin in the war. The family is glad to support the cause, as an ideal, but then the women are left to cope with life's trials and tribulations on their own. Although Marmee has her hands full with the four girls, she manages the role of single mother with grace and style.
While the book focuses on the lives of each of the March girls individually, this musical version focuses mainly on Jo, the beloved black sheep of the family. Because Jo is an aspiring author (and a somewhat autobiographical version of Alcott herself), Technical Designer Eric Johnson uses huge books as the backdrop. The colorful books frame the action on the center platform, which is made to look like parchment paper up which Jo will craft her stories.
Pit & Balcony's Little Women is bound to be a great show to experience together with family because it portrays a nurturing family whose members encourage one another, laugh together, and make the best of their circumstances. It is also the story of the unconventional Jo, who is sometimes viewed by outsiders as brash or inappropriate, but with her family's love and encouragement, she manages to pursue her dreams and accomplish goals beyond the reach of most women of her time. As the main character in this adaptation, Jo manages to be an individual, while playing an important role in the family dynamic. This is a true gift, in any time period and in any family—the ability to accept and encourage one another, to help all family members achieve their highest potential in their own individual style. This warm portrayal of the March family in Little Women is sure to set an uplifting tone to the start of the holiday season.
Little Women the Musical runs December 4th - 13th at Pit & Balcony Theatre, 805 N. Hamilton Street, Saginaw. Visit Pit & Balcony's website for more information.
© Lisa Purchase, 2009