The iconic March sisters from the classic tale Little Women stand and sing at rehearsal on the partially painted stairs of the Marches’ home for the second musical of the year and first Civil War era show put on by the university.
Little Woman tells the story of four sisters who come of age in Civil War America. They must learn to cope with their father’s absence (he is serving as a chaplain in the war) and their own subsequent poverty. Each sister is expertly written with different wants, dislikes and flaws. They must navigate suffocating societal norms and deal with occasionally aggravating sisters.
Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women in 1868, three years after the Civil War. Since that time, the book has been adapted for stage, film, television and opera, reaching the lives of countless young people. Many retellings of the original story have been published, and the original has sold more than 1.7 million copies.
This spring, the Augustana Theatre will put on their rendition of the classic tale.
“It has that wonderful sentimental value to it in terms of how many people have read the books,” Dan Workman, theater professor and director of Little Women, said. “It’s also family friendly.”
The department chose Little Women, a story that loosely mirrors the lives of the author and her three sisters, partly because of the opportunities it provides for strong female roles.
“It’s an excellent play for the women in our department,” Workman said. “It really brings out that strength, and I think Jo March in the books was really our first American female lead in literature.”
Cindy Bakke, costume designer and shop director for the theater, said she loves the story Little Women. It’s her favorite novel because it centers around girls and their lives.
“It was a book about girls,” Bakke said. “The guys, the boys, they are such minor characters. It’s about what it’s like to be a girl.”
Annika Paulsen, the actress playing Amy, was last seen on the Augustana stage in Trail to Oregon where she played the mother. Paulsen said she finds the context for this story extremely important.
“Little girls didn’t have stories about them,” Paulsen said. “They didn’t have people to read about.”
Junior Tatiana Chance plays Beth in the upcoming show.
“It used to be my favorite book when I was a kid,” Chance said. “I have always wanted siblings, and reading that book made me feel like I was a part of a little secret pact.”
The sisters in Little Women are all very different. They each have their own desires and distinct personalities that must be depicted by the various actresses.
Chance said she has not had the opportunity to play a character like Beth before. Earlier this year, Chance played one of the boisterous clowns in The 39 Steps and Medea in Medea, as translated by professor Richard Swanson. Chance said she is different from the character Beth.
“Beth is loving of everyone and loves people despite their faults, which is something that I wish I had within me,” Chance said.
Paulsen thinks she is different from her character, as well, noting how her character, Amy, is the least likable, often reacting to her sisters out of anger. In the novel, Amy is the youngest and, therefore, starts to mature near the end.
“How to show maturity or youthfulness while not being a completely different character is definitely an important part of playing Amy,” Paulsen said.
Jessica Welu, who plays Meg, can relate to her character’s romantic personality. She described Meg as kind, unproblematic and gentle.
“To get into character, I have to just focus on being sweet and kind and having good intentions,” Welu said. “I have to stay very optimistic.”
In the novel, Meg serves as a juxtaposition to Jo. She does all of the things society tells her she should, and in the opinion of Welu, Meg really does want that life.
Maggie Eberle, who plays Jo, has never had the opportunity to play a character with Jo’s strong personality and tremendous growth. She said it’s challenging to do justice to a character who refuses to conform to the expectations of society, while simultaneously growing into womanhood.
“Jo goes through different phases of confidence,” Eberle said. “She goes through doubt. She goes through major changes.”
In the novel, Jo herself wants nothing more than to be a novelist but must fight social expectations to achieve her goal.
“I think if you have ever wanted something so badly and then been brave enough to go for it, you will relate to Jo,” Eberle said.
According to Eberle, this story has relatable themes.
“It’s about having different aspirations and dreams and then the different avenues it takes to get there,” Eberle said. “It looks into the sacrifices that you have to take to achieve your dreams.”
The play will be performed in the theater in the Edith Mortenson Center on April 27–30 and May 1. Tickets for all Augustana plays are free for students, $15 for adults and $10 for seniors or people in the military. Tickets can be purchased before the show at the box office or at the university website.