KEARNEY — Director Dave Rozema admires how the music augments the story of the musical “Little Women.”
“In a lot of musicals, the music is incidental to the story,” he said. “It often feels added in as almost an entertainment device. In this production, the music actually moves the story and the plot along.”
Taking a lengthy 70,000-word novel such as “Little Women,” written by Louisa May Alcott in 1868, and adapting it to the stage requires a condensation of the story. Rozema believes that the music fills in information that must be omitted for brevity.
“A lot of the dialogue you’d find in the book itself is actually incorporated into the music,” Rozema said. “I love that about this musical. I like any musical that does that. The music is really part of the story. It’s not an add-on.”
The songs perform some of the “heavy lifting” of the story.
Kearney Community Theatre presents “Little Women: The Broadway Musical” with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, opening Feb. 20 through March 1 at the theater. Tickets for the show are $18.
Rozema said that “Little Women” audiences would experience beautiful music, a well-known story and relatable characters along with an elaborate set.
“We’ve put a lot of work into this one,” the director noted. “It will be an all-around, full, sensuous experience, engaging sight and sound.”
Coming on the heels of the Academy Award-nominated film of the same title, directed by Greta Gerwig and released in December, the musical draws from the same source as the novel.
“When we picked this show, we had no idea there was a new movie in production,” Rozema said. “We didn’t pick it for that reason, but it was very fortuitous because it brings the story to people’s minds and gets them interested in seeing it on stage. Even if they did see the new movie, the musical is very different. The order of the action is different, just for the sake of time. They have to cut some of those things out.”
Audiences know the basic story and the film reinforces the tie, but the musical interprets the novel in a unique way.
“This musical version is going to be different enough from the movie that people will be interested in seeing what the interpretation is that we give to it on the stage,” Rozema said.
The story follows the four March sisters as they navigate their formative years growing up during the Civil War. Josephine dreams of the life of a writer. The others consider Meg to be the traditional type, her sister Amy gets labeled as a romantic and they all think of Beth as too timid. The action of the musical tells the story of their lives through vignettes and recreations of the stories written by Josephine.
The Kearney Community Theatre production features a cast of 25 people.
“A majority of those are on stage in chorus scenes,” Rozema said. “Most of the action is told with the leading characters that people would be familiar with from the book.”
In terms of a familiarity with the novel, Rozema believes that audiences who know little about the book will enjoy it as much as those who have read it.
“Anyone can follow the story without having read the book,” he said. “Sometimes it helps to have read the book but in this case it’s not significantly different. You have to cut things out, things that the book has, but the story is the same.”
One challenge of translating a novel to the stage — accommodating the changes of locations.
“We have to be creative in how to use the space to give the impression that you’re actually in several different locations,” Rozema said. “That’s a big challenge.”
The director also recognizes the challenge of creating the interplay between the sisters.
“So much depends on the relationship between the characters,” Rozema said. “It has to be portrayed faithfully to the book. To do that you really have to have your actors invested in forming the same kinds of relationships that the characters have. We worked quite a bit on understanding the characters and talking about their motivations, what kind of relationships they would have with the other characters.”
The director tried to build similar relationships with the cast members.
“That way it’s more realistic when they play it on the stage,” Rozema said. “They’re not just acting it out, they’re actually feeling the same emotions and cares and concerns for each other that the characters do.”
Beyond the individual characteristics of the sisters, Rozema understands a larger picture.
“One important aspect of this story is the uniqueness of each character, especially the four sisters,” he said. “They each go different ways in their lives, and yet they maintain the ways in which they compliment and care for each other. You really see the beauty in the diversity of their personalities and character traits — but also in the unity of the family.”