A classic tale of growing up: Little Women

Four women looking excited.

Little Women. Photo credit Nanc Price Photography.

I’m sure most people have at least one story that played a big role in their childhood, perhaps even shaping the person they grew up to be. For Ruth Wong-Miller, who is one-half of Foote in the Door Productions, one of those stories is Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1869 novel, “Little Women“, whose Broadway musical adaptation plays November 3 – 11.

Ruth says, “This story is very special to me. I read it for the first time when I was seven and have since read it multiple times. Reading it as a young woman and again in my teens, it’s such interesting and well-crafted writing and even though it was written in the 1800s, it has so many linkages to women today. It’s such an engaging story and I think that this musical is a really great way of introducing audiences to the story, since the story is really relevant but there’s not really a focus on the classics and the [novel’s] writing is maybe not as easy for young people to get through today.”

For those unfamiliar, the novel is the story of the March sisters living with their mother and growing up while their father is away fighting in the American Civil War. As they grow up, the four very different sisters – Meg (the romantic), Jo (the tomboy), Beth (the musician), and Amy (the artist) – navigate their way through family dynamics, society’s expectations and their own dreams of who they want to be.

Director Trish Van Doornum says the show evokes themes of, “It’s a group of sisters who have to make their way in a world where things are not perfect for them. They’re dealing with a father who is away, with trying to keep their family together but also trying to grow into their place in the world… I really love the themes little women brings forward. It’s about family, empowerment, and women looking beyond what society tells them they are meant to do and striving for more. It’s about your sisters being there for you to help lift you up as opposed to tearing each other down.”

Five women gathered together reading a letter.

Little Women. Photo credit Nanc Price Photography.

“It’s also about being able to understand the importance of what you’re doing even if it doesn’t seem important or even if people try to tell you it’s not important. Jo is told by publisher after publisher that her stories aren’t good enough. She finally finds a story that’s good enough and realizes the story is part of who she is. It’s a reminder that we’re all finding our own stories. We’re all making it up as we go along… No one has all the answers and that’s okay. You’re always making up your own stories as you go, and you find that through your family, your friends and your support systems.”

Ruth, who plays Jo in Little Women adds, “Because it was written in the mid-1800s, obviously a theme is women who are dealing with gender constraints. Especially with Jo, the central character, the discussion is she’s not okay with the status quo of what’s expected of her gender at the time. I think that’s really interesting because I think women are still trying to find our place in a way. I think that’s what makes this piece contemporary is we are still struggling to find where we fit.”

Through the musical, we see all four sisters find their place in the world, none more so than Jo (whose story is semi-autobiographical for Louisa May Alcott). Ruth explains, “Jo refers to the fact that she might seem like she’s a small piece of the world, but she’s ready to be big and discover things about herself. There’s a song called ‘Astonishing’ about how she’s ready to take her place in the world. The song is about how she may just be one individual but there’s a lot she can accomplish.”

Litle Women plays at L’Unithéâtre (8627 – 91 street) November 3 – 11 (except Nov. 6 and 7). Tickets are $21 – $25 through Tix on the Square, except for Wednesday, November 8 when tickets are two-for-one.

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