The holidays can be a predictable time for theater. Numerous productions of different variations on A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life and other holiday- and winter-themed productions flood the scene. At the Chance, we wanted to do something a little different. We wanted to honor the spirit of the holiday and give families something to do together, without sticking to the standard fare.
Back in 2007, my artistic director Oanh Nguyen and I started brainstorming about what to do. We had already done two bold re-imaginings of A Christmas Carol and one musical version of It’s A Wonderful Life, but we agreed that there was a desire in our community for an alternative. When the idea of doing a musical version of the novel Anne of Green Gables was proposed, we agreed that it was potentially the answer we’d been looking for. Staged with just a platform, four book flats and a projection screen, the production focused in on the characters and journey of young orphan Anne Shirley and her misadventures in Avonlea. The audience turnout, and critical response, confirmed that a story that captured the essence of the holiday “” family, love and the bond of friendship “” could be a satisfying artistic alternative during wintertime.
Then we had an interesting thought. Even though we had already been producing The Eight: Reindeer Monologues for many years, thereby becoming an un-holiday tradition for many of our patrons, we thought perhaps it would be more interesting to expand out Mainstage show into a series of adaptations of family novels.
The next one we chose was Little Women “” The Broadway Musical (the remount opened this Saturday), and followed that up with The Secret Garden “” The Musical the following year. Combined with Anne, we now had our Holiday Literature Series, which rotates through these three shows every year.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to direct all three of the Holiday Literature Series productions. Although all these musicals have similar themes (strong central female character, the loss of a family members, etc.), each has its own distinct identity. Anne is the most wholesome with more of hymnal score; Secret Garden has a much darker tone, which makes it more of a ghost story than a holiday show; and Little Women has one of the strongest landmark female characters in literature, the indomitable Jo March.
Little Women also has the most popular soundtrack of the three, containing numerous songs that I’m sure many directors have heard at countless auditions, including “Astonishing,” “Here Alone” and “Some Things Are Meant to Be.” Approaching the show again this year for the remount, it struck me how much this story explores the idea of artistic maturity. When we first meet Jo, she’s struggling to find her voice as a writer, having only previously written “blood and guts” stories that her sisters enjoyed performing for their beloved Marmee and neighbors during Christmastime. But when Jo is confronted with the idea that her writing could be “better,” she goes on a journey through her memory to find something deeper and uncover the artist that she was always meant to be.
As a theater artist, I can relate to this journey, as well. Three years ago I was a different director than I am today. When we first produced the show at the Chance in 2009, I focused on the ups and downs in Jo’s life, on the relationships and her growth from a young precocious teenager to a sophisticated young woman who was truly “astonishing.” Although those themes are still present in this year’s production (how could they not be?), I found myself drawn to Jo’s insistence that she has a “fire” within her, representing her unrelenting spirit and sometimes irrational behavior, that was almost always out of place in the 1860s. The entire production can be charted by the level of Jo’s fire, reaching the heights of an inferno during an unexpected marriage proposal, to the smoldering embers when tragedy touches her life. But it’s important to note that the fire never deserts her, and matures along with Jo during the course of the story. By the end, the fire no longer burns wildly like it did when she was young but is just as bright, if not brighter.
This “fire” that Jo speaks of is present in all artists. We are irrational creatures, refusing to listen to reason when our friends and family insist that we get “real jobs.” Also, what feeds the fire is personal expression and being true to ourselves, regardless of the reaction. We know that to compromise our own mission would do nothing more than to gradually extinguish what propels us forward.
Since we opened our doors back in 1999, the Chance has always been committed to doing works that are personally important, promote dialogue within our community, and help our resident artists (and other local artists) push themselves to the next level. Our shows have met with varying degrees of success (won awards for some, small audiences for others), but that has never been our focus. It is best to be like Jo and not follow the trends of the time, but set your own mission and follow it”¦and hopefully people will follow.
So this holiday season, I hope you join us at the Chance to celebrate the spirit of Jo March””and artists everywhere. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you may even find yourself inspired to explore your own inner fire, and hold who and what you love just a little bit closer.
Little Women, Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave. in Anaheim Hills, Calif., 92807.Â Plays Thurs-Fri 8pm; Sat 3pm and 8pm; Sun 2pm and 7pm Friday. Through December 22.Â Tickets: $30-$45. Call (714) 777-3033 or visit www.chancetheater.com
***All Little Women production photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Casey Long (Director, Managing Director) has been a Chance Theater Resident Artist since 1999 and has previously directed the Chance’s Holiday Literature productions of Anne of Green Gables, Little Women: The Broadway Musical and The Secret Garden: The Musical. Also the Chance’s managing director, Casey has appeared onstage in several Chance productions, including eight years (and counting) as Dasher in The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. Recently, Casey received LADCC and Garland Award nominations for his sound design of the Chance’s So Cal Premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera.Print