‘Little Women’ kicks off Theatre in the Park season
It’s Monday night at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, and there’s a buzz in the air.
Some of it is the buffalo gnats, which are ravenous, but mostly it’s the odd blend of excitement and nerves that comes from the knowledge that there are just a few days of rehearsal until opening night.
Theatre in the Park’s 2009 season began Friday with “Little Women.”
The show’s director, Kelly Bassett, is moving about, from the dressing rooms down a hill to backstage and around to the seating area of the amphitheater.
A group of stagehands are struggling to lift an electric piano onto the stage, and everyone seems to have questions.
“Do I wear it under the pink dress?” a young actress asks about an element of her costume.
“Is that something I have to take off and put on?” another asks about the hat that had just been added to her costume.
The play is loosely based on the Louisa May Alcott novel about four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March.
“It’s loosely based on Louisa May Alcott herself, and her relationship with her sisters,” Bassett said. “Josephine March — Jo — is the sister that is very outgoing. She’s ahead of her time, and she wants to be published. She’s Louisa May Alcott herself.”
“I have always wanted to do ‘Little Women.’ I read the book, I’ve seen the movies, I’ve done all those things,” Bassett said.
Asked whether there was anything about this production that made her particularly proud, Bassett pointed to Act 2.
“There’s some very special scenes in Act 2 that the cast — young people — have worked very hard on to do very well. Our youngest one is 14, so we’ve got eighth grade and up,” she said.
Chuk Robertson, wearing a royal-blue military uniform, plays Mr. March, the girls’ father. A preacher, he goes off to be a chaplain with the Union Army during the Civil War, where he’s wounded and sent home.
“I am a broken-down old preacher, as it says in the show, I decide to lend a willing hand to fight for what I believe — which of course is anti-slavery, equality and all the good stuff in life,” Robertson said.
Madison Holcomb plays Jo March. “My character is a tomboy, a dramatic tomboy,” she said.
This is Holcomb’s first lead speaking role.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to be in this show, and I’m going to be the lead. I’m going to be Jo March,’” Holcomb said. “I was really headstrong, just like Jo, like my character.”
Holcomb, 18, is a senior at PORTA High School and will miss her graduation ceremony to perform next weekend. In the fall, she’ll go to Louisiana State University with a major in theater and psychology and a minor in dance (Holcomb also performs with the Springfield Ballet Company).
Pat Pennington plays Aunt March, whom another cast member refers to as “biddy.”
“I’m a little sassy,” Pennington said of her character.
Asked what it means to work with a relatively younger cast, Pennington said, “Well, they’re a little more giddy, a little more high-strung in the makeup room and in the costume room. And they all have their chatter, which is wonderful to sit back and listen to. It sort of reminds you of — somewhat of — your childhood.”
Pennington started performing at age 5.
“Acting is such a blessing,” she said. “It’s like a whole new world. You feel so blessed to be out here among people. And when you walk on, you can be somebody else for a while.”
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There are a few things to keep in mind if you go see “Little Women”: it’s early in the season, so be sure to bring a jacket.
And if the gnats are still out in force, some actors suggest using a vanilla body spray to help keep the biting insects away.
Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presented by Theatre in the Park
* When: 8 p.m. Friday (May 22) through Sunday and May 28-30.
* Where: Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, Illinois 97 south of Petersburg
* Tickets: $12 adults, $10 seniors, $7 children under 12; call (217) 632-5440 or (800) 710-9290.