Above: Sabrina Gross (Beth), Alycia Thatcher (Amy), Joel Ibanez (Laurie) Morgan James (Jo), and Hailey Eckhart (Meg) in The Very Little Theatre’s production of Little Women; photo by Richard Scheeland)

NOTE: Go online to TheVLT.com or call the box office at 541-344-7751 for refund/cancellation instructions

By Randi Bjornstad

Little Women, based on the book by 19th-century novelist Louisa May Alcott and her girl-filled family, had a grand coming-out-yet-again party in 2019 in the form of a major movie production directed by Greta Gerwig.

The film was nominated for six Oscars — best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Musical Score, Adapted Screenplay, and Costume Design — and won one, by   costumer Jacqueline Durran.

Its appearance in theaters probably drove many women back to their bookshelves or online readers to check out the original, and it was quite amazing how many of the scenes from the novel were plucked out of the pages and pasted into the movie.

But that wasn’t a musical. The play that continues The Very Little Theatre’s 91st season in March (very appropriate since that was the family’s name in the Alcott story) is a musical, the same version that appeared on Broadway in 2005, running for 55 preview performances followed by 137 “official” performances that year. The Broadway production featured a couple of major Broadway actresses, namely Sutton Foster as Jo and Maureen McGovern as Marmee, mother of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. McGovern also played Marmee in a 30-city U.S. tour that launched three months later.

Little Women the musical is modern, written by Allan Knee, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland. It opened in 2001 at Duke University in North Carolina before making its way to New York.

The VLT’s cast has Morgan James, Hailey Eckhart, Sabrina Gross and Alycia Thatcher in the parts of Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy, plus Jennifer Sellers as Aunt March and Amy Weinkauf as Marmee.

They are joined onstage by Lori Bell, Artemisa Castro-Transporto, Ashton Huffman, Joel Ibañez, Cydney King, Sara Kubler, April Oristano, Taylor Perse, Christopher Ridgley, Ryan Sayegh, and Lee Vogt.

Kari Boldon Welch directs, with music direction by Jim Greenwood, set design by Tim Tendick, lighting by Laura Leader, and costumes by Gail Rapp and Paula Tendick.

The plot of Little Women outlines the complicatged joys and sorrows of a family of girls growing up in relatively un-posh circumstances in New England in a time when women had few opportunities and few choices. Their father was away serving as a chaplain in the Civil War, and their mother worked hard to keep things together on the home front.

Jo struggles to become a writer but has difficulty succeeding because of her gender. She writes plays for family and friends to enjoy, and she and her sisters, perform them at holiday gatherings.

The plot complications center around rich neighbors, the elderly Mr. Lawrence and his grandson, nicknamed Laurie, as well as the girls’ rich and imperious Aunt March. It’s also sparked by a personality conflict between Jo and Amy, both willful and hot-headed, which comes to a head when Amy maliciously burns Jo’s handwritten manuscript to pay her back for a slight.

Meg — and eventually Amy — are both status conscious and determined to marry well. Beth, as most who have heard anything about Little Women know, is gentle and musical and doomed to die an early death from scarlet fever.

That leaves Jo, whose denouement in life and literature differs. In real life, Louisa May Alcott never married. She was politically and socially active in issues such as women’s suffrage, abolition, and temperance. She died at age 55 of a stroke, two days after her father died.

In the book, Jo frequently proclaims her complete lack of interest in marriage in favor of pursuing her writing, but at the end she marries Professor Bhaer, a fellow writer whom she has known from early adulthood. The musical ends in the same way.

However, the book contains repeated references by Jo not only to her unwillingness to fulfill a traditional woman’s role but also to her disdain for women’s dress, women’s activities, and women’s expectations in general. It raises the question whether if born in another era, Jo March/Louisa May Alcott might have declared herself part of the LGBTQ community.

In fact, in an interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, as reported by Lauren Martin in Words of Women, Alcott said, “I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body .… because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”

Little Women the Musical

When: Evenings at 7:30 p.m. on March 13-14, 19-21, and 26-28; matinees at 2 p.m. on March 15 and 22

Where: The Very Little Theatre, 2350 Hilyard St., Eugene

Tickets: $25, senior citizens and students, $21; groups of 10 or more $19 each; available at the VLT box office, 541-344-7751, from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, or online at TheVLT.com

Details: Opening night gala with refreshments after the performance on March 13; assisted-listening devices available on a first-come basis at each performance

Amy Weinkauf, center, plays Marmee, the matriarch of the March family, in VLT’s Little Women; clockwise from upper left, she is surrounded by Hailey Eckhart, Morgan James, Alycia Thatcher, and Sabrina Gross, playing Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth; photo by Richard Scheeland