Human history tends to work in cycles.
One hundred and fifty years after the American Civil War, we find ourselves in another toxic political and social climate. There’s been a loss of civility and kindness. We’ve each been distilled down into cannon fodder for politically charged rhetoric and our individualism is getting stripped away.
The motifs of our time and late 18th century America are strikingly similar and now art that speaks to the pain, the fallout, the division caused by hardcore tribalism has become even more important.
Louisa May Alcott, a nurse during the Civil War, penned one of the most famous children’s novels, “Little Women,” based in part on her own life. The coming of age story follows the family torn apart by war, and a young women fighting for individualism. The novel was adapted into a number of highly successful films and a distilled Broadway musical play.
The Savannah Repertory Theatre continues its second season with the musical adaption of “Little Women.” On the heals of the MeToo movement, a rebirth of deep political division, a re-emergence of highly vocal white nationalism, the story has just as much relevance now as it did when it was penned.
“It’s 2018, and the core of this play is individualism, and a strong female character and does what she wants and what she believes in,” Sean Thompson (Professor Bhaer) said. “She doesn’t adhere to what she has to. That’s amazing and the story we need at the moment.”
The production is being directed by Savannah Repertory Theatre co-founder Jennifer Michelle Bishop, who’s handling her first directing gig with the young company.
“I wanted to bring it back down to focus on the classical piece that is the novel,” Bishop said of the production. “Bring it back to that place, especially with the smallness of our space in comparison to the big Broadway aspects that it was created into. Bring the music back down to that storytelling level.
"'Little Women the Musical' is a beautiful adaptation that gives you all your favorite moments of the original story about the March family and Jo’s journey of breaking boundaries and following her dreams," Bishop said in a press release. "Jo was one of my heroines growing up, and directing this play comes full circle for me and felt it only right that a play about women, based on a book written by a woman, should be directed by a woman."
As Savannah Repertory Theatre — the area’s only Actors’ Equity Association house — strived to do from the beginning, “Little Women” is being staged with a mix of local, regional, amateur and professional actors. The company holds two auditions, typically, one in Savannah and one in New York.
After the auditions were completed this year, Bishop was still trying to find an actor to fill the roll of Professor Bhaer, cross to main character, Jo March, who is played by Greenville, S.C., actress Kimberly Camacho.
Thompson auditioned via video while on tour with “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.” Prior to the tour, Thompson had finished a role in the Broadway revival of “Sunset Boulevard,” across from Glenn Close.
“I knew it from auditioning for it,” Thompson said. “I wrote Jenn and said, do you need a Jon Brooke. That’s who I had always gone in for. Honestly, Professor Bhaer wasn’t on my mind at all to audition for. That’s what Jenn suggested. I was like, yes, such a nice and rich character. Deep. Got a lot going on, but simple at the same time, which is nice. You can access the depth of who he is.”
Equity actor Sam Beasley will handle the other male love interest, Laurie Laurence, while a mix of both Savannah actress and actors and regional actors fill out the 10-person cast. Bishop cast a bit older than the Broadway version, as the characters age by seven years during the play, including familiar faces like Amie Dasher (Amy March), Amber Defeo (Meg March), Jeroy Hannah (Mr. Laurence), Katie James (Beth March), and Karla Knudsen (Marmee March). Carol Metlon (Aunt March) and Jordan Jones (John Brooke) are making their Savannah Repertory debuts.
The Savannah Repertory has a bit of its own history with “Little Women.” Co-founder Nick Corley directed a workshop of the musical at Duke University in 2001. The musical was adapted by famed writer Allan Knee, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland. Knee is also known for his play “The Man Who was Peter Pan,” which was adapted into the film “Finding Neverland.”
The Broadway musical ran for 137 performances with the indelible Sutton Foster as Jo. Foster garnered Tony Award and Drama Desk nominations for her performance.