Its not often that I can watch a story thats nearly 150 years old and be kept in suspense as to how it ends.
But I know Im not the only man in town who has never read Little Women, and so I wont spoil things for my fellow ignoramuses who might want to catch the musical version of the Louisa May Alcott classic, which will be staged over the next two weekends at the Durango Arts Center.
Instead, Ill focus on the remarkable Alyse Neubert, the 21-year old Fort Lewis College graduate who stars as Jo March and also is the shows producer.
I understand guys not knowing it, but Ive met an alarming number of girls my age who arent familiar with it. Its become a generational thing, but everyone who sees the story really responds to it, Neubert said.
While she was a theater major at FLC earning a degree in performance and directing, Neubert wanted to bring the musical to the college, but it lost out to Chicago in 2009. So she took matters into her own hands as an early-graduating senior.
I wanted to stay and finish four years because I had graduated high school early and left and regretted it, Neubert said. But I needed to make it worth staying, not just taking classes but doing something big.
And so, for her big project, Neubert went really big. She shelled out thousands of dollars for the rights and music to perform the show. It cost even more for costumes, which are authentic period outfits created by FLCs costume guru Jane Gould. And she needed a venue and someone to direct the show, which she originally planned to do herself.
But when we decided to move it downtown, we knew we needed a name director, Neubert said.
Enter Ginny Davis, the Fort Lewis College professor who has put her stamp on numerous local and regional productions in the last decade. Never one to shy away from some on-stage experimentation, Davis exhibits a stroke of genius in simplifying one of the most confusing aspects of the 2005 Broadway version of Little Women: The Musical.
In scenes recounting Jos writings through song, the Broadway show used cast members in dual roles that created vignettes that were nothing short of baffling. Davis replaces the chaos with shadow work the writings are personified by actors behind a screen, creating silhouettes that dont force the audience into discerning between the cast members real and imaginary roles.
Little Women is community theater at its best. Neubert enlisted her own family to help with set construction, and much of the furniture used in the sets is on loan from the Strater Hotel. The cast is a mix of FLC students, alumni and Durango community members, and the casting is refreshingly age-appropriate Im a big fan of people with gray hair playing characters with gray hair, and so the choice of local Glen Walker to play Mr. Laurence is a fine choice. Also, any time you get a chance to catch a local show featuring Geoff Johnson, who plays Jos mentor and future beau Professor Bhaer, take it. Hes very good.
The crucial roles of the March girls are equally well-cast. Gini Philipp handles Amys transition from brat to young lady expertly and with some great comic relief; Erin OConnor tackles Meg, arguably the most difficult role (think middle-sister blues Jan Brady before Jan Brady); and Emily Eisele displays the finest singing voice in the ensemble in her role as the intelligent and responsible, but ultimately doomed Beth.
Thanks to a talented cast and the efforts of Neubert, who is both accomplished and focused beyond her years, Little Women: The Musical is a pleasant surprise. Neubert said shell spend the summer working on the DACs production of Greater Tuna. Then she will either pursue theater opportunities elsewhere or stay and work on establishing a permanent and professional community theater in Durango.
Regardless of her future plans, her theatrical career is off to a great start.