By Tamara Vallejos
Chino Community Theatre’s Little Women delivers an intimate portray of Alcott’s touching story
It may not star Santa or Scrooge, but the holiday production by Chino Community Theatre features a story of love and family that seems perfect for this time of year. Little Women, a musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel about four poor sisters in 1860s Massachusetts, opened last Friday in the 90-seat Seventh Street Theatre—an intimate space that seems a particularly suited for this show, according to director Juan Luis Torres.
He’s the one who proposed Chino Community Theatre stage Little Women, which originally premiered on Broadway in 2005. Torres later caught the touring production when it stopped in Los Angeles, and when it came time to decide on this year’s holiday musical, he knew the relatively small cast size of just 10 people would make it a great fit for the company, while the story and music would make it an entertaining evening for audiences.
“Not only is it a classic tale,” says Torres, “but the music has a little bit of everything: power ballads, a lot of duets, some up-tempo songs and a big operatic tragedy scene where everyone is on stage at one time.”
Of course, this particular theater can’t fit a Broadway-sized orchestra, so Torres has opted for pre-recorded music to accompany the show’s performers. A live pianist would have been possible, but Torres says it wouldn’t have done justice to the music, by Jason Howland (lyrics are by Mindi Dickstein, and the book is by Allan Knee).
“Because of the period Little Women is set in, it needs a full sound with as many musical instruments as we could have, and we couldn’t accomplish that live,” he explains, noting that this way, audiences will get to hear those French horns and violins he appreciated when he first saw the show himself—which was the first time he was introduced to Alcott’s famous story.
“I didn’t read the book when I was supposed to, when I was growing up,” admits Torres. But after finally reading it while preparing for this show, he found himself even more impressed with the musical adaptation. Original reviews for the Broadway production were mixed, with some criticizing the depth of the characters on stage, but Torres thinks that’s unfair.
“It’s so hard to take a classic, especially a big fat book like Little Women, and [boil it down to] two hours and 45 minutes,” he says. “Unfortunately, you can’t put everything on the stage, but I think you do see glimpses of each character and their adventures. It’s still a touching story.”
That story has been beloved for the past 150 years, centering around four sisters with completely distinct personalities and desires. There’s the outspoken and tomboyish Jo who dreams of a literary career, the well-mannered and domestic Meg, the sickly but kind-hearted Beth and the young and spoiled Amy who loves art as much as she loves a good tantrum. As the girls come of age, they go through the most relatable of life’s experiences: they find love, face tragedy and loss and are continuously reminded of the importance of family.
That warm, communal feeling of Little Women aligns nicely with what Torres says is the mission of Chino Community Theatre. The cast is comprised of local performers, and there are many hands-on opportunities and workshops for the community. He himself has been involved with the company since the ’90s, when he was a high school student.
“We want to keep the arts alive and available to anyone who wants to try the stage or any aspect of the theater,” he says. “This is a home for anybody.”
Chino Community Theatre presents Little Women at Seventh Street Theatre, 13123 Seventh St., Chino, (909) 590-1149; chinocommunitytheatre.org. Thru Dec. 16. $15 general admission, $12 seniors and students.