'Little Women: The Musical' up next at Harvester 56 Theater

Nov 3, 2016

As the Batavia Players prepared Tuesday to stage "Little Women: The Musical," the Harvester 56 Theater felt like a large family racing to get ready for a big trip.

Actors whipped around from costuming areas and the green room to the stage, looking for a castmate as their counterpart does the same in another end of the theater.

A choir could be heard through a wall as the crew figured out how papers on a table should be laid out, and the five-member pit warmed up in a theater alcove.

Castmembers who play mothers both on stage and off were in Civil War-era dress as they bounced their toddlers — one joked that Director Pat Burk has cast every available babysitter in what is one of the largest shows of the year.

"It's fun, every time we rehearse we get closer together, we hug a little tighter," said Emily Crawford, who portrays Marmee, the mother of the titular little women. "It's really growing and progressing as show gets closer … we're a very big family."

Tuesday evening was the first full-costume run through for the show, which opens Friday and runs the next two weekends. Crawford said it was a transformational night for a cast with many younger actors and actresses.

"It's funny to see how the characters change when we get into costume get on," Crawford said. "We all try to get into character, but it never happens all the way until you get into customer and then all of a sudden, that's who you are."

The sense of a life and character evolving is most deeply felt by Kristin Gelia, who plays Jo March through March's adolescence in Concord, N.H. as a girl not interested in affirming societal norms; and then as an author trying to sell her first story. Although she only ages five years during the show, Gelia said they are impactful.

"It's really a coming of age story, here she is in a time when it's not okay for a girl to make her own path, and to be a professional like it is today," Gelia said. "For me, I consider Jo as a kindred spirit."

Teresa Hirsch, who as boarding house owner Mrs. Kirk, sees Jo emerging professionally and personally, said the show has developed and grown like the coming-of-age characters.

"There have been scenes I've continually watched where I just know they will be phenomenal scenes, and they don't even have the costumes and sets and all the things that glue them together," Hirsch said. "I really think they will stand out."

Inside the packed green room, Crawford recommended bringing tissues. She praised Gelia's ability to perform an emotional scene and step right back on stage with the composure needed to give "a remarkable performance" with each song.

Across the theater, Eric Zwieg stood in the far stands in a reserved manner fitting his character - German ex-patriate Professor Bhaer. Zwieg said he wants to follow the text of the musical to the letter - it feels like it's written for Bhaer.

"It's very angular, a lot of numbers and consonants … there's an extreme sense of purpose when he speaks, but it's tough because English is his second language," said Zwieg, who brushed up on German and read the philosophers that his character references in the show's second act.

"It flushes out the little nuances," Zwieg said. "That doesn't always transfer, but it is internal, and allows the character to be more purposeful."

Nash Johns, who portrays Theodore Laurence III, a contemporary and admirer of Jo in the first act, only has to look back two years to understand his character. He played the same role as a high school student in Pavilion.

"It was a very easy process, I was off book quickly, but there's aspects that change based on the characters," Johns said, noting that Gelia plays Jo with a brazen comfort that makes their on-stage relationship different.

While his character's ending point has not changed from the Louisa May Alcott novel, he said the small changes and staging have been impressive.

"The story still sends a strong message, it stands the test of time."

"Little Women: The Musical" will be performed by the Batavia Players at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Nov. 10, 11 and 12; and at 2 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Harvester 56 Theater. Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 for students and senior citizens, and can be purchased at the box office and DailyNewsTickets.com.

By Jim Krencik, Batavia Daily News