By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Into the Woods was set to open at Oxford High School March 19, 2020, mere days after the coronavirus shut everything down. More than a year later, Rapunzel’s tower is still standing backstage. But it’s about to be upstaged by another show: Little Women, the Broadway musical based on Louisa May Allcot’s beloved coming of age novel about the four March sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy – growing up in Civil War America.
“We were looking for a show that could be handled in a pandemic year,” said the play’s director, theater teacher Krista Price, “that I could design something for that’s a little more scaled-down as far as sets and some of the other elements. There’s not a lot of makeup and hair, it’s more doable in a year where people can be quarantined.”
They also picked the play for its beautiful music and story. “It’s the reason the story has lived on for a long time, so this cast fell in love with the characters and their development in the story. We’re very much enjoying the process, but it’s in some of the most difficult positions in my 23 years (of teaching) that I’ve been in. So it’s definitely challenging, but worth it.”
It has been tricky getting everything done with Covid happening in the background because cast members can get quarantined any time they sit next to someone who has the virus in their classes during the day.
“It’s been difficult because we don’t have everybody that we need all the time,” said Calleigh Wilson who plays Jo March, the lead role. “But, I think we’re pulling it together and I think we’re doing much better than we could be, given everything that’s happened this year.
“This cast has such a good dynamic and that’s such an important thing to have when you’re trying to put on a show together. It’s just been so nice to have this be kind of like my sanctuary away from everything else that’s stressing me out, it’s been really fun.”
Zoe Oetjens who plays Beth March, said rehearsing has been unique. “We try to keep it as normal as possible, but you know, there are moments behind the scenes, like backstage we can’t talk to each other like usual; we’re more spaced out.”
Still, she agrees with Wilson about the cast and crew. “I never expected this to be as big of a family,” said Oetjens. “It became more of a real family than just an onstage one. Everyone is just so great.” The play is “about the struggles a family goes through and how they come through all these problems and keep moving forward even in bad situations. I think it’s a very empowering musical, especially towards women and it inspires girls to do what they want.”
Wilson can relate to Jo because they share similar personalities. “I’ve been having a really fun time playing Jo and it’s really cool to see the different dynamics the characters have. This is a story that everybody has heard for years and years and years. I feel like it’s such an honor to play Jo, and also it’s pressure because it is a character that a lot of people know really well.”
Wilson hadn’t experienced any version of Little Women before seeing the 2019 film adaptation, but the two versions are different. “In the movie they kind of jump around in time a lot more than they do in the musical, and also we don’t spend any time in Europe in this show, but they do a lot in the movie. And Jo is on stage quite a bit compared to the movie where more of the characters get more screen time. But that’s the world of theater, you have to abridge some parts of it just so you can fit it all into a two hour show.”
Wilson will continue her acting career as she purses her BFA in musical theater at Oakland University this fall. “(Little Women) is going to be a really great experience and I’m really glad that we get to do a show this year at all and I’m really grateful for the fact that everybody’s come together and done a lot of really hard work so we all get to do this.”
It has been a challenging year for the arts. “Our local kids are who we’re here to serve and if we weren’t doing this show it would be two years before anyone has been on stage,” Price said. “So while other programs are up and running, even if they get some games canceled here and there and things like that, these kids still haven’t had an opportunity to do their craft, and so this show means a lot, even though it’s much more scaled down than our typical musicals, it means a lot to the kids.”
Most of the cast of Into the Woods were seniors last year, so this is a mostly new cast. “Last year, after the shutdown, yeah of course, just like for everybody, it was really devastating. That was set to be a pretty amazing show. When you put your heart and soul – the kids, myself, everybody building the sets, three months of work and you get right up to the finish line and can’t see it through, it’s pretty devastating. So this means a lot to everybody that’s participating.”
They had hoped they still might get to perform Into the Woods before all the seniors of 2020 went their separate ways, but they never got that chance. They decided to do a completely different show this year, rather than try to recast all the parts.
“That was special to that group of people in that time,” Price explained. “To then take that out of their hands and put it in someone else’s wouldn’t have felt like we had honored all that they had done to bring that show to fruition. So, unfortunately it’s a capsule in time of our memories and that’s where it gets to live, instead of in front of an audience. I think we’re all grateful for having had it because it’s a really meaningful show for a lot of us.”
Nathan Freundl, who plays John Brooke in Little Women, was also the narrator of Into the Woods. “It wasn’t very encouraging to be an actor making his way up, because that was one of the first main singing roles that I had. When I was just knocked down immediately I had to learn – that was really important – how to come back from it and just realize there’s always a future ahead.”
Little Women will have five live performances: May 13-15 at 7p.m. and May 15-16 at 2p.m. A limited number of tickets available for each performance can be purchased from the online box office, ShowTix4U, at ohsmusical.com.
Patrons must be able to wear a mask over their nose and mouth the entire duration of the performance. All households will be seated at least six feet apart from each other.
Those unable to attend the live performances can purchase on-demand tickets. The on-demand performance will be recorded during the live performances, but will not be available until June 1.