2002 ‘Little Women’ cast goes back in time
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
If Amy Wyatt, with a baby due next month and a 2-year-old son at home, needed any reminder from her seat in the back of Ethington Theatre on Saturday evening of how things change, all she needed to do was look on stage.
There, the cast of “Little Women: An Opera in Two Acts” put its own signature on the American composer Mark Adamo’s adaptation of the famous Louisa May Alcott book that Wyatt had performed 12 years ago in the same theatre. Inside Ethington, the actors, director, musicians, set and interpretation had all changed since Wyatt’s time, and outside Ethington, the landscape of the Grand Canyon University, from which she graduated in 2005, could not have been more different.
Wyatt, a soprano who acted and sang the part of Amy March in “Little Women,” watched with tissues in hand with her former cast members, GCU adjunct faculty member Rena Brown (Jo), Jessica Hackenson (Meg), Kathleen Bowman Treat (Beth) and Nick Halonen (Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence).
“We were a giddy mess the entire time,” said Wyatt said, laughing about their reaction. “It was a very different production than what we did, and that made it a little easier for all for us. And yes, it was very hard not to sing along.”
Among the differences between the 2002 and the 2014 productions is that Wyatt’s group had the support of a full orchestra, while the current cast was bolstered by stellar pianist/assistant music director Mark Fearey, with students Reisto Belovich and Kelsey McKee on second piano. The stirring piano music, directed by Juan Hernandez, COFAP’s assistant dean, along with vocals from a six-woman chorus, emphasized the dissonance that is the opera’s main thread.
In the story, Jo (played superbly by junior Andrea Hall) wants nothing to do with change, even though everything around her is changing. Hall conveyed the anguish of a woman whose best friend, Laurie (a perfect role for talented tenor Gavin Ely), wants their friendship to move beyond that, and whose older sister Meg, (played with passion by Rebekah Hughes) decides to marry someone Jo believes is subpar. As if Jo’s life doesn’t have enough turmoil, sister Beth (so sweetly portrayed by Hanna Dowell) is dying, and sister Amy (played by Caroline Turnage whose songbird voice belies her tiny stature) ends up with Laurie.
Jo simply wants to “rewind the twine” of their lives and “uncry the tears.”
Behind the scenes, the dedication of GCU theatre instructor Michael Kary, as director, scenic designer Bill Symington, costume designer Nola Yergen and voice instructor Sheila Corley shines. The cast had only 40 days (Wyatt’s cast had about four months) to rehearse in Ethington, which was tied up with rehearsals for COFAP’s first performance of the year, “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.” A less professional, dedicated faculty and staff could not have managed that timeline.
Wyatt, an only child whose friendship with her three “sisters” has blossomed despite — or perhaps because of — life’s changes, called her “Little Women” experience 12 years ago the most special of her 18 shows as a student for five years at GCU. Meeting the new cast after the show Saturday evening opened a floodgate of memories that are sure to last, too.
“We all beelined for our characters because there’s camaraderie there, and it was emotional because we know how hard each part was,” Wyatt said. “It was neat to cheer them on.”
Brown echoed those sentiments: “I loved every moment of learning, singing and performing the role of Jo March. Wow! This production was such a treasured gift to us then and even now 12 years later. Beautiful friends, wonderful memories, gorgeous music and such a gift from God! These amazing people are talented music educators, worship leaders and just dear!”