Festival 56 is ending its 2019 summer season on a strong (musical) note. Its sixth and final full production, “Little Women, The Broadway Musical,” opened Saturday evening with a nearly full house.
Theater goers were in good spirits as they clapped after each musical number and burst into a standing ovation at the close of the final scene.
It was a well-deserved standing ovation, too. The cast, creative team and production staff, including director Dev Bondarin, did a wonderful job bringing this American classic to life.
I had been anticipating this show all summer. I just happened to put “Little Women” on my reading list this year before I became aware of Festival 56’s lineup.
When I read the show was coming to Princeton, I moved the book to the top of my reading list, so I could have it finished before going to the show. I’ll admit, my summer got away from me faster than I planned, and I didn’t get the original story read before Saturday. But, I did borrow a young adult classic literature edition from a friend (funny, I know), which I managed to finish before the weekend.
While it was the “very concise” version, it gave me some background about what this Civil War-era story was all about, and helped introduce me to the four March sisters.
Favorite? The writer, naturally
Naturally, my favorite sister of the four is Jo March. She’s a fiery, independent woman who defies cultural norms while following her dreams of becoming a writer.
To me, her story is the most compelling, and I was thrilled on Saturday to see Janna Schmid play the character of Jo. I’ve really enjoyed watching Schmid this summer. She has brought her own humorous twist to every character she’s portrayed, which makes her shine on stage. Her other summer credits include Izzy in “Rabbit Hole” and Mrs. Brill in “Mary Poppins.” I hope she returns to Festival 56 in the future.
Rachel Weinfeld plays the beautiful, romantic Meg March, who depicts the perfect “little women” of the time as she marries and bears children (twins), which is the expectation for the time period.
Margaret Leisenheimer plays the kind, sweet, shy and weak Beth March, who is the peacemaker of the family and is known for her musical talent.
Petite Rose Blume plays the youngest sister, Amy March, who behaves vain and self-centered at the beginning of the play, but eventually grows up during her travels to Europe with her aunt, which also inspires her artistic talents.
Mary Heyl plays the backbone of the family, Marmee March, who is wise as she helps guide her daughters’ morals and watches over them while her husband is gone to war. This was Heyl’s and Blume’s second mother-and-daughter roles this summer, as they also appeared together in Festival 56’s “Pinkalicious.”
Supporting cast members include Kaitlyn Weickel as snooty, rich Aunt March, who pleads for Jo to be proper; Cole Winton as Laurie, the boy next door who grows up with the March sisters; John Cormier as Professor Bhaer, who helps guide Jo’s writing career in New York City; Adam Oldaker as Mr. Laurence, who is Laurie’s stern grandfather who proves later on he does have a softer side; Jennifer Brunker as Mrs. Kirk, who supports Jo’s writing at a boarding house in New York City; and Daniel Jameson as Mr. Brooke, the love interest of Meg March.
There’s some really neat creative work in this show. Bondarin has found a cool way to bring to life Jo’s venturesome “blood and guts” stories on the small stage at Festival 56. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s something I’ve never seen done before on a stage, and you don’t want to miss it.
Goers will also be charmed by the play’s musical numbers that don’t slow down the show. There’s one musical number, “The Weekly Volcano Press,” where all the cast members find a way out on stage and belt their hearts out. This performance really blew the audience away.
If you haven’t yet seen a show at Festival 56 this summer, I strongly encourage you do so. You won’t have a chance like this again until next summer.
Remaining show times for “Little Women” are Thursday, Aug. 1, Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday, Aug. 3, at 7:30 p.m. The final show will be a matinee on Sunday, Aug. 4, at 2 p.m. Shows are at the Grace Performing Arts Center, located at 316. S. Main St.
Tickets are $29, $26 for seniors (65 plus) and $14 for students. The box office is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. or one hour before show times.
Note to readers: Goldie Rapp is senior staff writer at the Bureau County Republican and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @bcr_grapp.