Chance Theater closes out 2022 with a holiday favorite
By Libby Nicolay
Louisa May Alcott’s heartwarming classic “Little Women” has been told, retold, reimagined, and readapted all across American culture. The 19th-century masterpiece has had such an enduring quality that continues to draw people back in, most recently with Greta Gerwig’s commanding 2019 feature film. This year, Chance Theater is ushering in the holiday cheer with a new reworking of the celebrated musical version, running November 25 through December 23.
Based on Alcott’s expansive semi-autobiographical novel, the story follows the coming of age of the four March Sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy - set in Civil War America. The tomboyish heroine of the bunch, Jo, “bursting with energy”, is an aspiring writer fruitlessly trying to sell her stories to publishers. With their father gone off to the war, Jo and her sisters grow up together, fumbling,disagreeing and dreaming. Eventually, Jo is forced to understand the power that her own unfolding story will hold. Hiding underneath what may seem like a plain and sweet plot is an epic with deceiving complexity that shares the importance of seeking community and staying true to oneself.
For director Casey Long, this production marks his fifth time directing the musical and his fourth at Chance Theater, as “Little Women - The Broadway Musical” is part of their regular rotation of holiday shows. Though the classic tale isn’t necessarily about the holidays, Long argues that it captures its fair share of holiday spirit with its themes centered around family and togetherness.
This year’s production, however, will differ from all of Long’s previous versions in that it will be staged on what’s known as a “three-quarter thrust”, where the audience is on three sides instead of a typical, auditorium-style proscenium. Despite having to completely re-stage the piece, Long is aiming for this new staging to heighten the intimacy of the story, artfully noting that this version “should feel like gathering around a fire during the holidays and reading a story aloud.”
Long also noted the feminist themes that are keenly on display in this story. Following four earnest young women in 19th-century society, women at that time were expected to stay home and strive only for domestic life. Jo March is a pioneering young woman, leading a family of women all learning who they are and chasing after their own love story. Meg dreams of romance and luxury. Amy wants the high life. Beth, though timid and pure at heart, wants to take care of her family and give back to the ones who raised her. For Jo, her refusal to abide by the female social standards and her desire to think for herself is deemed reckless. Even so, her own unchecked feelings and the societal standards permeating around her don’t seem to deter her from bravely chasing after the career she wants.
“Jo March blazed a trail for other femal
e literary characters, and I think other male characters too, in her spirit and her unwillingness to compromise,” Long explains. “That created problems for her, but also in the end, she created this astonishing life for herself and for her family.”
The life lessons found within this story, however, transcend just the female experience. There’s much to be learned, too, from the men who come into - and out of - their lives, and the very human experiences of going through loss and facing rejection. Long’s production is excited to bring to life Alcott’s hopefulness and shared humanity, this time through a slightly different visual lens.
Long mentions another poignant message at play: that there is overlooked value in leaning on others for strength. “You can be a strong fierce woman like Jo March,” he says, “but your strength can only carry you so far.” At some point, admitting to yourself that community is more valuable for a life well-lived than any unreached goal or standard, will set you free. When speaking about this freedom in the March sisters, he states, “It’s when they’re together, when they’re bonded, that they can do anything.” For those of us who might not have felt this same bond with our family, this story beckons the feeling that there is just as much meaning in your chosen, communal family.
Long talks about a recurring motif throughout the show about “making the clouds disappear,” that there’s always light behind them, no matter how dark it may seem. This is the type of strength, he says, that can only be found through love in community with one another.
Bring your own family - chosen or not - to Chance Theater this holiday season and be inspired by this timeless adaptation full of music, empowerment, and adventure.
Libby Nicolay is a writer, literary manager, and local theater enthusiast working in the entertainment industry throughout Orange County.
‘Little Women: The Musical’
Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center on the Cripe Stage
5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim
November 25 - December 23
(888) 455-4212, www.chancetheater.com