How can the hopes and dreams of four young women from the 1860s still resonate? Find out April 6-22, when Valley Youth Theatre’s stages its new production of “Little Women, the Broadway Musical.”
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel set during the Civil War, the show chronicles the struggles of strong and willful Jo, dutiful Meg, gentle Beth and artistic Amy — which are still quite relevant, says Bobb Cooper, VYT’s producing artistic director and director of the show.
“It’s about love and interpersonal relationships, and it really resonates with the challenges, messages and hopefulness of young people today,” Cooper says, adding the character of Jo seems especially timely.
“As Jo learns to find her voice and stand up for what she believes in, I can’t help but make comparisons to the powerful young voices we are hearing in the news today,” Cooper muses. “I think it’s wonderful how this tale continues to be applicable — and how it continues to create a meaningful dialogue about women, their hopes and fears, their convictions and compassion and their fierce, relentless tenacity.”
The musical differs somewhat from the book in that there are a few missing characters and some sped-up time frames. At the time of the story, the Civil War is raging, and while their father is away on the battlefield, the girls live at home in Concord, Massachusetts, with their strong, beloved mother. Marmee, as they call her, is played by Tatum Dial, a 17-year-old junior at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix.
“I admire that my character can stay strong throughout difficult times and can remain strong for her children,” says Tatum. “She’s a good role model for girls and is positive in every situation.”
Tatum believes one lesson from “Little Women” is “how powerful a family unit can be.” She also thinks girls can learn a lot from Jo.
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“She’s one of the first feminists, who even cuts her hair off and wears pants!” says Tatum, a veteran of productions at VYT. “She’s a strong role model for girls today.”
Tatum believes that anyone who suffers loss can also relate to the story: “It’s all about how to keep going and not get discouraged. Personally, I can relate with audition rejections.”
In all, 18 young Valley actors, ages 14-18, appear in the production. The spirited and tomboyish Jo, an aspiring writer, is played by Lily Castle, also a 17-year-old a junior at Xavier College Preparatory and a veteran youth actor in the Valley.
“Jo refuses to conform,” says Lily. “She’s brave and doesn’t follow what everyone tells her to do. She dives headfirst into the unknown. Today, there are so many stories of women facing the same issues. It shows that you don’t have to be an up-front revolutionary. You can make a difference in your own community and your own town.”
Playing Meg, who is the oldest and a romantic, is Stephanie Larson in her sixth show at VYT.
“Meg is a good sister,” says Stephanie. When it comes to Jo, Beth and Amy, “she’s always there for them and knows they’re there for her. She has to rely on them, and I think that’s why their bonds are so strong. I think the lesson learned is to be kind to everyone and to develop strong bonds with family and friends.”
Sweet and kindhearted Beth is portrayed by Sarah Pansing, a 17-year-old junior at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix.
“Beth cares about how people are and how they feel,” Sarah says. “She goes out of her way to make people happy and is always both kind and very giving. I think she can teach young women how to mediate conflicts, while remaining fair and rational. She thinks with both her heart and her head, at the same time. I think Beth, and the entire musical, teach about unconditional love.”
And finally, taking the part of the sometimes pretentious Amy, the youngest of the sisters, is Kendra Richards in her fourth role for VYT.
“I like that Amy knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it,” says Kendra. “Even though she wants the finest things, she still puts her sisters first. To me, she teaches the importance of family. Our society is so divided today, as was hers. Amy wants family to be close and strives to always be caring and have respect for other people.”
Thought to be semi-autobiographical, Alcott’s timeless tale has long been admired for its depiction of both humor and heartache and for the invaluable life lessons learned by its characters.
“This is a beautiful example of how a beloved piece of classic literature can stand the test of time and connect us with the past,” says Cooper. “This an evergreen story of sisterhood, family, love, ambition, empowerment and growing up.”
If you go: April 6-22; 7 p.m. Friday, April 6; noon and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays; 12:30 and 4 p.m. Sundays. Valley Youth Theatre, 525 N. First St., Phoenix. $20 ages 2 and up. 602-253-8188 ext. 1 or vyt.com
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