From left: Becca Gray as Amy, Kristen Larson as Meg, Sarah Van Zwoll as Jo, Lilly Lancaster as Beth, and Leslie Bennett as Marmee.

The University Theatre opened its newest performance, "Little Women: The Broadway Musical," Friday night in Crafton-Preyer Theatre to a respectably-sized audience. The play touches on difficult subjects such as loss, marriage to a soldier at war, death, a child’s need for independence and the difficult yet supportive dynamics within families.

When the audience wasn’t laughing or crying, it certainly had audible reactions to the scenes on stage.

The musical, based on the book of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, focuses on the lives of four young sisters in 1866 near the end of the American Civil War — Amy, the pretentious youngest sister that will make anyone with younger siblings groan; Beth, the caring, innocent songbird; Meg, the oldest and the romantic; and Jo, the wildly creative, boisterous protagonist trying to find her way in the world. Together, with their mother, the family struggles to maintain happiness through the ups and downs of life.

Rissa Garcia, a sophomore from Las Cruces, N.M. at Haskell Indian Nations University, said the family dynamic hit close to home, especially during a particular scene where Jo leaves her family to start her career as an author.

“I really connected with the sisters and their wanting to stay together as a family but also having to learn how to let go,” Garcia said. “I’m from New Mexico, so all my family and siblings are so far away. I even started to tear up at some of the scenes just because of how relatable it was.”

Garcia said she had been “incredibly impressed” with the performance which she said made her night, given that she had only come to the performance for class credit.

“The use of the stage was amazing,” Garcia said. “I’ve seen scene use like that before but never to that extent.”

The scene use Garcia mentioned was the use of the Crafton-Preyer’s moving stage which helped to keep the story flowing without need for a disrupting scene change. A three-tiered set was built on the stage allowing for a variety of scene placement which kept the action fresh and engaging.

“I was really impressed,” Ladine Thompson, a freshman from Oklahoma City at Haskell Indian Nations University, said. “It was really beautiful to watch, and I don’t usually like musicals but the songs in this play were very well done.”

Sarah Van Zwoll, a sophomore from Overland Park who portrays Jo, was an interesting choice for the lead given her sparse theatrical experience, but despite never performing in a University Theatre performance and only recently changing her major to theater, Van Zwoll remained at peak energy throughout the performance.

“She was beautiful,” Thompson said. “I can’t believe she’s never done something like this before.”

Despite her impressive performance, Van Zwoll said the show was a group effort.

A role of this size is not possible without the support and love from the cast and crew I have gotten,” Van Zwoll said.

Van Zwoll's “rock”, University alumna and director Amy Corcoran, said she’s glad to have an audience to finally see the show but isn’t quite ready to give it up.

“I'm incredibly proud of everyone involved though it's always bittersweet to open a show," Corcoran said. “As a director, opening means my work is done and it's over.”

Little Women will show April 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. with its finale on April 17 at 2:30 p.m. in Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall. More information and ticket prices can be found at the Theater Department's website.

— Edited by Michael Portman 

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