Big roles for ‘Little Women’

Monroe High performs American classic

Kelly Sullivan

The tale told in “Little Women: The Musical” holds a hefty weight for many of the performers and crew members who wove together this year’s Monroe High School spring production.

At first, junior Maleah Haverly found she was torn between the spectrum of personalities to try out for, each represented by the different characters. The student’s decision was settled during a tearful reaction to a soulful solo performed by the March family’s matriarch Marmee in the second act.

Haverly stood outside the MHS performing arts center on Thursday, May 4, in a gray, frizzy wig, stage makeup and traditional dress exuding the persona of the story’s strong mother. It took 12 hours of onstage rehearsal each week since February and countless hours offstage for the nearly three dozen cast members to prepare. For many, getting involved was an easy choice.

“I watched ‘Little Women’ as a kid, I’ve read the book,” Haverly said. “It’s just a really fantastic story, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

The show started this past weekend, with three more shows scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 11, Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13. The musical is based on the 1869 semi-autobiographical novel by Louisa May Alcott.

The opening scene is set in the year after the Civil War ended. The protagonist, Josephine March, played by junior Aly Gutierrez, receives criticism from her future husband, Professor Bhaer. The older man also resides at Mrs. Kirk’s Boarding House in New York City. At the time she has received yet another rejection by a publisher for her story “An Operatic Tragedy.”

“It’s a vocally challenging role, and the story is very personal to me, so it was hard to find a balance in how much genuine emotion I could put out while still keeping myself safe and in check,” wrote Guitierrez in an email. “I loved telling her story because she values family and doesn’t ever falter in her quest to fulfill her true potential.”

As Jo reflects on her story, the setting shifts to three years earlier, when she was at home in Concord, Massachusetts with her three sisters and mother. Throughout the first act, Marmee struggles to hold down the household alone while her husband is away working as a Union Army chaplain in the war.

Senior Jennie Peterson plays the youngest, and somewhat entitled sister, Amy. Junior Amanda Lester plays the oldest sister, Meg, and senior Jordan Roche plays the second youngest sister, Beth, who sees the best in those around her. Jo struggles throughout the story with becoming less of a tomboy, and strives to become a published writer.

Gutierrez does not leave the stage for longer than three minutes during the two-act production, wrote director Stephen Loewen in an email. To play the character is “truly a grueling experience and a true testament to her professionalism and endurance.”

“Truly this musical is a massive undertaking from all sides,” according to Loewen. “The actors on stage have to be able to transport themselves to a time period they have only read about in history books and bring these characters to life.”

Loewen, like Haverly, has a history with “Little Women” that extends from childhood. It was the first classic novel he remembers reading. Through her characters the author stresses the importance of family, and how one young person was able to pave a place for themselves amid life’s ups and downs, and society’s rigid expectations, he said.

The Honors American Literature classes and drama teacher wrote that he “fell in love with the music and lyrics by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein.” It soon became a personal dream to direct the show. The production showcases the vocal talents of the performers. It also challenges their abilities to grow and transform as their characters all age throughout the production, he wrote.

Many of the actors in the show are also singers who showed off their skills April 28-29 at the State Contest for Music at Central Washington University. Gutierrez took home first place as soprano soloist for the state of Washington. Of the 32 musical cast members, “14 of them are in one or more of the three choirs here at Monroe,” Loewen wrote.

“I believe much of the crossover between the two departments has to do with the programs that (music director) Mr. (Ryan) Hyde and I are building being so closely related as well as supportive of each other,” Loewen wrote. “We blend well. The musical gives musicians the opportunity to continue to expand their vocal range as well as exposure to performing.”

Jazz choir student Payton Borland, who plays Professor Bhaer, said this was his first year combining trades. 

“I just recently started getting into theater,” he said. “It’s probably my favorite thing I’ve done — ever.”

Photo by Kelly Sullivan: From top left to top right, senior Jennie Peterson, junior Aly Gutierrez, junior Maleah Haverly, senior Jordan Roche and junior Amanda Lester rehearse for ‘Little Women: The Musical’ on Thursday, May 4, at Monroe High School. From left, senior Jordan Roche, senior Jennie Peterson and junior Amanda Lester rehearse for ‘Little Women: The Musical.’ Junior Trent Petersen and senior Cameron Sibert rehearse a fight scene.


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