‘Little Women,’ Big Musical

‘Little Women,’ Big Musical

Story is still the heart of beloved novel on stage



For 150 years, Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” has been perpetually beloved. The sentimental story of the four March sisters, their mother, Marmee, and their lives while their father is away fighting in the Civil War hits all the emotional high notes. It’s funny, tragic, poignant, a treatise on the social mores of the time and a study of familial relationships. So popular is the story that it’s been interpreted on film eight times — including a version scheduled for release this holiday season. It has been represented on television nine times and has eight stage plays or musicals in publication, including the 2005 musical that Northwest Arkansas theater company Pilot Arts will mount this week.

“I think it’s a great story for the holidays,” says Missy Gipson, Pilot Arts founder and executive director. “It’s all the things that make a great musical. It’s not a big spectacle show — it’s really a story-based musical. I love family stories. I love relationship-based stories. I love the idea of these sisters and following their journey over a couple of years. And we have some really great younger women performers, and I really wanted to highlight them.”

The show includes around 20 musical numbers, many in the style of the time, like waltzes and polkas, which will be performed live by an orchestra. Gipson has staged the show in profile, with audiences on two sides, for a maximum sense of intimacy.

A big part of the charm of Alcott’s story is that the four March daughters — Meg, Amy, Beth and Jo — are allowed to be real, flesh-and-blood characters. These are not perfectly behaved young ladies: They yell, they fight, they sometimes act like jerks (I’m looking at you, Amy). But equally charming is the way they always find a way to come back together, forgiving all transgressions. Gipson has found a quartet of young performers who can embody all of the quirks of the characters while still remaining relatable and likeable. Alison Kaseberg, in particular, rips into the firecracker that is Jo March with glee, gusto and abandon — something she says is a departure from her everyday persona.

“I was nervous to go out for Jo, because, as I did my research, I realized that she’s the one that a lot of people love — she’s one of those literary figures,” says Kaseberg. “I definitely saw myself playing Meg’s role or Amy’s role, because I’m naturally more feminine, and I want to be put together all the time and refined. Playing Jo is a real challenge — I have to find that tomboy part of myself. The easiest gateway is finding her feistiness. She can be so quick to anger — but when I was 19, I was the same way.”

Once Kaseberg found the character, though, she became Jo.

“She’s a lot more fun than I thought she was going to be,” she says. “She’s so carefree, and she doesn’t care how other people see her. She only cares that she has her family around her. But, even then, she’s not willing to compromise who she is to please Amy. It’s been a lot of fun, getting to work with this [sibling] dynamic and finding those relationships. Everybody who has a sibling has those moments of truly hating your sibling, but you always end up finding common ground.”

Kaseberg is a 2017 graduate from the University of Arkansas, having returned to Fayetteville after a brief period abroad. She’s currently working and planning on graduate school, but she was drawn to Pilot Arts because she missed the opportunity of performing. She is, in fact, the kind of performer Gipson had in mind when she formed the theater company over two years ago.

“I had met all these people in our community that are awesome performers, but they are living their lives, working their jobs, raising their families — but that [yearning to perform] doesn’t die,” says Gipson, who is an actor with New York City theater credits on her resume, as well as a member of the popular musical duo Chase Missy. “I know for me, I wanted a space like that, and I wanted to give that space to other people. I call it ‘theater for everyday artists.’”

Because her cast and crew are people with jobs or students, says Gipson, she’s vigilant about using their time wisely.

“I only call people [to rehearsal] when I need them,” she says. “I’m hyper-aware of their time and what I expect from people and what they expect from me in order to balance their lives.”

Gipson still performs herself — she recently wrapped the movies “The Riot Act” and “Step Into: Miss Laura’s ” — but, she says, teaching, producing and directing at Pilot Arts has brought her a lot of fulfillment.

“I get a thrill from producing,” she says. “I love sitting in the audience, seeing something come together.

“I want people to know that it really is an open space. It’s an equal opportunity to create, and if they don’t get cast, they can work with us in other ways. We bring in an orchestra and a conductor — I try to give everyone the most professional experience I can.”



‘Little Women: The Musical’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Nov. 15-17; 2 p.m. Nov. 16-17

WHERE — Arkansas Air and Military Museum, 4290 S. School Ave., Fayetteville

COST — $12-$30

INFO — facebook.com/pilotartsco/‘Little Women,’ Big Musical

Categories: Family Friendly