‘Little Women’ find their voices in musical production

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 21, 2015

 Playing members of the March family in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Little Women — The Broadway Musical” are, from left, Anna Christinidis, Lindsay Calhoun, Amy Ricker, Grace Knoche and Quinn Sahutske.

Playing members of the March family in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Little Women — The Broadway Musical” are, from left, Anna Christinidis, Lindsay Calhoun, Amy Ricker, Grace Knoche and Quinn Sahutske.

Photo by Dale Pegg, courtesy of Grosse Pointe Theatre


GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Generations of young women — and probably more than a few young men — have grown up reading, and loving, Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women.”

The story of the four March sisters — strong-willed aspiring writer Jo, domestic Meg, shy and gentle Beth, and self-centered Amy — has been made into multiple films, and most recently, it has become a musical stage production. It’s the latest incarnation, “Little Women — The Broadway Musical,” that’s getting the Grosse Pointe Theatre treatment this month with shows running through Jan. 31.

Director Jeanne Chrisman, of Harper Woods, a GPT veteran, leapt at the opportunity to direct this show.

“I love the book,” said Chrisman, a middle daughter in a family that included five girls, making the “Little Women” story personally relatable.

Chrisman felt a particular kinship with the character of Jo, said to be a surrogate for Alcott, who based the book roughly on her own family. Fittingly, Grace Knoche, of New Baltimore, who plays Jo, also connected with the character long before being cast.

“I got the book from Santa when I was about 8 years old,” she said. “I also loved to watch the (1994 movie starring Winona Ryder) with my mom and my sister.”

Knoche said that as soon as she heard there was a musical version of the book, she sought out the cast CD and promptly “fell in love” with the songs. She didn’t hesitate to audition for the GPT production.

“Playing Jo is like a dream,” Knoche said. “She’s one of my favorite literary characters. I love her story and her personality. Her character is so vibrant and so fun.”

Jude Purcell, of Troy, plays Professor Bhaer, Jo’s older love interest. The two strong, smart characters initially clash, but eventually realize they have feelings for each other. Purcell said Jo “shows (Bhaer) an adventurous side of life,” and the character of Jo demonstrates the importance “of following one’s dreams.”

Other actors in the cast include Lindsay Calhoun and Anna Christinidis, of Grosse Pointe City; Quinn Sahutske, of Grosse Pointe Park; Hallie Williams, of Grosse Pointe Farms; Laura Bartell, of Grosse Pointe Shores; Amy Ricker, of Sterling Heights; Peter Gritsas and Beth Teagan, of Grosse Pointe Woods; Pete DiSante, of St. Clair Shores; and Jose Cabrera, of Madison Heights. The ensemble consists of Courtney Bocci, of Grosse Pointe Park; Trevor Sherry, of Clinton Township; Emily Thomson, of Madison Heights; Panos Valarmos, of Grosse Pointe Woods; and Natalie Boehmer, Jessica Tujaka and Josie Monahan, of Grosse Pointe Farms.

Although GPT has staged plays with primarily young casts — “Annie Warbucks” and “Hairspray” are recent examples — they’re not as typical. There are several high school and college students in “Little Women,” and the youngest performer is 11-year-old Sahutske, who plays a young Amy March.

“For us, it’s a little bit of a (departure),” Chrisman said of the “Little Women” cast. “We don’t usually do younger-centered shows.”

This is another period piece for GPT, “which means yards and yards and yards of fabric,” joked Anna Chrisman, of Harper Woods, who’s in charge of costumes with Fiona Parker, of Grosse Pointe Park. Anna Chrisman’s mom is this show’s director, and Jeanne Chrisman said many of the technical positions for this show are shouldered by duos.

“What we’re trying to do is getting some of the younger people involved in leadership roles,” Jeanne Chrisman said. “It’s been a lot of group effort. It makes the workload a lot easier.”

Another GPT first, said Technical Director Brian Groth, of St. Clair Shores, is the use of corrugated cardboard for most of the painted surfaces. Lighter and less expensive than the muslin flats GPT has traditionally used, these new backdrops are nonetheless just as visually impressive. Groth said Set Designer Kevin Fitzhenry, of Warren, came up with the idea of using books in the set itself, and audiences will see that idea cleverly articulated, from the large books that frame the set to characters emerging from an oversized book — coming to life off the page.

“It’s a fun set — it’s innovative,” Groth said.

They’ve also repurposed the turntable — purchased for a production of “Les Misérables” — to reveal the attic where Jo did her writing. Groth said the attic is the place where many pivotal moments in the story occur.

“We really wanted the attic to be a special place in the (production),” he said.

Above all, Jeanne Chrisman said the family-centric musical is “very true to the feeling of the book.”

Knoche concurred.

“It’s family in its purest form,” she said. “There’s laughter … but there’s also heartbreak and loss.”
Along the way, Purcell said audiences will hear “some beautiful songs” in this production.

“I think the music fits the story,” Knoche said. “Everything is so sincere.”

Audiences might not be as familiar with the musical as its source material, but Chrisman said those who loved the book should also enjoy this version.

“My big (focus) was to bring out the characters, to make them as realistic as possible,” she said. “And I think we’ve succeeded in that. You really see the family as a unit.”

“Little Women — The Broadway Musical” will be staged at 2 p.m. Jan. 25 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22-24 and Jan. 29-31 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore in Grosse Pointe Farms. Tickets are $24. For tickets or more information, visit www.gpt.org or call (313) 881-4004. Dinner packages before performances can be purchased through the War Memorial; call (313) 332-4074 for reservations or more information.