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Arts and Entertainment

New Local Theater Company Debuts With The Broadway Musical Version of "Little Women"

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(Poster design courtesy Small Umbrella Theatre)
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A new theater company is about to debut in Springfield, and on KSMU’s “Arts News” we talked with one of the company’s founders, and one of the lead actors in the company’s upcoming inaugural production.                                                                            

Paige Rogers and her husband Joe Rogers recently returned to the Springfield area after spending about six years working in the theater industry in Portland, Oregon: Paige as a director, Joe as a much-in-demand professional stage manager, and both acting and producing for various Portland theater companies. Their return to Springfield last year was COVID-related.

“We came back and, sadly, Joe's father had COVID and passed away,” said Paige Rogers. “During that time I got very low, which I think a lot of people did in 2020.” She became very interested in the Broadway musical version of “Little Women,” the classic Louisa May Alcott novel about four young women coming of age in 1860s New England. “And I sat around and I thought, what if I directed ‘Little Women,’ what would I do? And my dear husband, he eventually saw this and was like, well, I guess we're just going to start a theater company so we can do this… which (are) the words you never want to say: ‘(Let’s) start a theater company!”

But that’s exactly what Paige and Joe Rogers did, raising money to do this production of “Little Women, The Broadway Musical.”  Their new company is called “Small Umbrella Theatre,” and the name actually derives from Alcott’s “Little Women,” accorded to Paige Rogers.

“If you know ‘Little Women’—spoiler alert!—at the end of the novel, Jo kind of meets her match and they fall in love under a small umbrella. So my husband, when I was listening to (the score for the Broadway musical version), he… came home one day and handed me a small umbrella and said,’we're going to do this together.’ Their company logo shows an upside-down umbrella, because, Paige Rogers said, “that symbolizes victory over hardships. And we want to continue to strive to do that.”

“We looked around this community,” she continued, “and it's such a beautiful artistic community—and we're like, ‘what did we learn in Portland that we can bring back here?’ So we sought out doing theater with three values:  the first one is, we prioritize women and underrepresented folks in our storytelling, but also in roles on and off stage. So our whole design team is women, which is incredible. And our second thing is, we believe that theatre should be accessible to all, so our tickets for every show are ‘pay what you will,’ because we want people who have maybe never experienced theater to come in and experience something new.”   The third tier of their policy statement is that “we’re paying all of our artists. They're small stipends to start. But I think artists should be paid for their beautiful work that they do now.”

Asked if the second and third goals might be in conflict with each other—only asking patrons to “pay what they will,” but wanting to a sufficient budget to pay their actors. “It's an interesting process for ticketing that way,” Rogers admitted. However, she had experience with that sort of ticket-selling arrangement in Portland. “And you find that it tends to balance out, actually. People are inspired.  Someone who's gone to the theater a lot, they see, like, maybe a young teenager who's never done (theater). And they're like, ‘well, I can get five extra bucks.’ And so it actually ends up becoming this really beautiful connection that people (the actors and audience members) have to each other.”

There will be no minimum charge for tickets either. “If someone walks in there, like, I can only give a dollar, I would rather them experience theater (than be turned away).”

Small Umbrella’s inaugural production, “Little Women The Broadway Musical,” will be performed throughout the month of August in Wilhoit Theater on the Drury University campus. Both Paige and Joe Rogers are Drury alumni. We've been working with… the (Drury) theater department. We've created this kind of marriage, where their students are involved in our shows. We've brought in mentors to help them as well to get (up) to  professional quality. And it's we're hoping that we get to stay there (in the Wilhoit Theater) and explore more shows there”.

“Little Women,” with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, is of course based on the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott, and concerns the growing-up process of the four March sisters: Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy.  Darby Vincent plays Jo, and she made it very clear why she wanted to do the role.

“Little Women was the first classic novel that I read,” Vincent said. “I was about eight years old when I picked up the novel, and I have been in love with it ever since. I am in love with several film adaptations of the novel. I have reread the novel. I'm currently working on my third reread of it. It's one of my favorite stories of all time. And it's been a dream of mine to be a part of it. I never thought that I'd be able to participate in this show here. I could not be more happy and proud of this show. And I'm so happy that I get to be a part of it. It's truly a dream come true.”

Asked to describe the show, Darby Vincent said, “I truly think that this musical is different from so many other big musicals that we've seen in this community. One of my favorite things about this musical is that, although we're taking a classic tale and interweaving dance and song, it's not flashy and huge. It’s not like we're not stopping everything to do this big dance number; it’s all very beautifully woven in, taking pieces of the book and interweaving those into the music and the dance” so that “contextually make sense. They're able to keep those classic elements (of Alcott’s story) while still incorporating song and dance. And I love that about this show.”

One point about “Little Women”, said Darby Vincent, is that Alcott incorporated music and dance into various scenes in the novel—the girls attend a ball, for example. And the creators of the show have been able to incorporate music and dance “in the context of celebration, and celebrating small victories through dance. And that's something beautiful that I love about the show: we get to celebrate through the hardships that can occur in this plot. And the songs, a lot of them are born from a moment of play between the four sisters, or a moment of bonding between two new best friends, or two people falling in love, or two sisters holding each other for possibly the last time. And they're born from places of, just the deepest moments of their hearts, where they can't do anything but sing.”

In addition to Darby Vincent, the cast includes Tricia Bush as the girls’ mother, Marmee Marsh; Kellsey Howerton Bradley (Meg); Amari Snead (Beth); Sophie Daniel (Amy); Tanner Munson as Laurie “Theodore” Laurence; and Alex Harris as Professor Bhaer.

Small Umbrella’s production of “Little Women The Broadway Musical” opens July 30th and runs through August 28 in Drury University Wilhoit Theater. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30; Sundays at 2:00pm; and three Thursday evenings at 7:30, on August 5, 19 and 26. Again, all tickets will be sold on a “pay what you will” basis.  For more information, call (417) 414-0484; visit www.smallumbrellathatre.org or their Facebook page; or email info@smallumbrellatheatre.org.

The company plans to take COVID safety precautions during this production, said Director Paige Rogers. Wilhoit Theatre normally seats 249, but they will only sell 100 tickets for each performance.