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'Little Women' as Girl-illa Theater; Song of Sisterhood Is Now a Musical, Too
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Musical theater; Theater -- Little Women
Author: Pressley, Nelson
Date: Jun 29, 2006
Start Page: C.1
Section: STYLE

Susan H. Schulman, director of the current musical, was 12 when she discovered "Little Women" in a Brooklyn library. Maureen McGovern, who played Marmee on Broadway and headlines the current tour, recalls picking up an abridged version when she was 10 or so, then sobbing with her mother in front of the television set while watching the two major film versions, starring Katharine Hepburn in 1933 and June Allyson in 1949. "We'd have our hankies," McGovern recalls with a chuckle. "Sentimental slobs, we'd call each other." (The movies, even the 1994 Winona Ryder picture, are typically identified by who plays Jo, the spunky, independent sister [Alcott] most closely patterned after herself.)

Jan Susina, associate professor of English at Illinois State University, notes that the men in "Little Women" are in distant orbit around the March sisters. When eldest sister Meg marries John Brooke, her first kiss goes not to her husband, but to Marmee. Theodore Lawrence, aka Laurie (oh dear), is an "eternal boy," a "romantic object" who gets passed around among the sisters until he lands for good with Amy. Consider a gender reversal of that, Susina contends, and "it would be really creepy."

McGovern says, "I believe in every young woman's heart beats the heart of Jo March." ("I don't think anyone wants to be Laurie," Susina counters.) Schulman reports that even city kids with scant theatergoing experience have taken to the musical's depiction of loyal sister/blooming writer/progressive spirit Jo. "It was an amazing instant love affair, because she was an outsider, and they understood that," the director says. "She was fighting for things people told her she was never going to have. It was just thrilling."

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