Family classic 'Little Women' is holiday show
If you go ...
Who: Phoenix Theatre
What: "Little Women"
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 9 (preview), 10-12; 2 p.m. Dec. 13
Where: Sheldon Theatre
Cost: $16 adults, $10 students; half-price on Dec. 9
More info: (651) 388-8700 or (800) 899-5759, or www.sheldontheatre.org
"Little Women" is a timeless story for all ages, but to some women involved in the production, telling the story on stage will be like bringing old friends to life.
American author Louisa May Alcott's book was a favorite for both director Min Martin Oakes and for lead actor Jacqueline West, who plays the most outspoken of the March sisters - Jo.
West wanted to get involved with community theater in Red Wing, having moved here with her husband, Ryan, from Chilton, Wis., in July. When Phoenix Theatre announced it would stage "Little Women" as its Christmas show, "that made it extra special," West said.
As Jo, she'll join her "sisters" - Susan Kinyon as Meg, Michele Poncelet as Beth and Erin Skolte as Amy - in telling the story of the March family and friends, including neighbor Laurie, played by Jesse Stewart.
Sara Hoffman is their mother, Marmee, and Eve Stone plays Aunt March. David Oakes, Ron Allen, Ryan Schmidt and John Anderson play the other male characters.
The play describes their activities, including scrapes Jo and Laurie get into, as it explores relationships, family life and issues of feminism.
West has plenty of experience. She was involved in operas, musicals and plays at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she earned a degree in voice. While there, she appeared professionally in eight Fanny Hill dinner theater shows; plus she was in an educational movie for lawyers.
She also was seen in community theater productions in Eau Claire, River Falls, Hudson and the Twin Cities. And for a couple of years she was a street character, minstrel and juggling instructor at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
But theater is not her only interest.
"I'm a writer, just like my character" in the play, West said.
The UW-Madison's Parallel Press will publish her first poetry chapbook - "Cherma," about the Bohemian settlement that once thrived between Ellsworth and River Falls - in fall of 2010.
More exciting, though, is the imminent publication of her first juvenile fiction novel, "The Shadows," by Penguin's Dial Division. The first in a series of stories about a young girl, "The Books of Elsewhere" will be released in June.
"My favorite book growing up was 'Little Women,'" West said. When she signed up to audition for the play, she wrote down that the character with whom she associated was Jo.
"She was a writer, and she was outspoken, ambitious and imaginative," West said. "Those were the things I loved most about her," even though she doesn't consider herself outspoken or "a tomboy" like Jo.
West is impressed with the adaptation Oakes found for the Red Wing production. "It was obviously done by someone who loved the book. It's very true to the novel," she said.
Oakes - who also directed Phoenix's "Miracle on 34th Street" last year - also was a "Little Women" fan growing up. Her mother used to talk about the story and the girls with great affection, she explained.
"I think I was about 10 before I realized Beth, Meg, Jo and Amy weren't relatives in Scotland," where her mother was from. "I was so disappointed."
Oakes wanted to do the play this year, but had trouble finding an adaptation she thought would work here. So she Googled stage adaptations of "Little Women" and up popped an article about a theater professor at Iowa State University who solved a similar problem by writing her own script.
Oakes e-mailed the professor, Jane Cox, who sent back a copy of the adaptation.
"It's hard to cover this entire story" in a single production, Oakes said. Cox's script used a voice-over to connect scenes. "We changed it to a narrator (who) bridges the gap so we can cover the whole story, but not in as much detail as the book."
Taking turns as narrators will be Becca Nau, Nancy Krafka, Hannah Quinn, Brianna Moynihan and Sherry Allen.
The story spans nine years, she said. "Christmas comes several times," making this a good show to see during the holidays. It has that kind of message, Oakes added: "That family is at the heart of everything we do."