The Kenai Performers are taking the stage Thursday for their opening night of “Little Women.”
The cast of 10 are putting on a musical rendition of the mid-1800s classic tale, originally a novel written by Louisa May Alcott.
Rebecca Gilman is the director of the show. She said she chose the story both because it is beloved by audiences, and because it gives the spotlight to female characters and actresses.
“A lot of the time the primary roles are for me,” Gilman said. “How they (the March sisters) find out how to become their own women in this world is what drew me to it.”
“Little Women” follows four sisters in the mid-1800s over the course of many years, through both love and loss. The sisters watch each other as they fall in love, become wives and mothers, travel to different continents, establish professional careers and mourn the death of one of their own.
Amy Burton plays Margaret “Marmee” March in the musical, who is the mother of the March sisters.
Burton said in certain ways her character reflects her real life. Being a mother herself, she said, helps her convey the role on stage.
“I do feel like I say the same things at home as I do onstage,” she said.
In the story, Marmee watches as her daughter Beth falls ill with the scarlet fever. Beth ends up dying of the disease.
“It definitely brings up a lot of emotions,” Burton said. “It’s probably a mother’s worst fear, to lose a child.”
Meredith Harber plays Aunt March. This is her first production with the Kenai Performers.
Although Harber said she’s not the classy, ultra-refined and tightly wound character she plays in her everyday life, she and Aunt March both want to see women develop into their full potential.
“I want young women to find their path in the world,” Harber said.
Chris Pepper plays John Brooke, the character who ends up marrying the eldest March sister, Meg.
Pepper said up until now he’s mostly been cast as exaggerated characters, so playing a more shy, awkward love interest has been a new experience.
“It’s been interesting for me to kind of dial it down,” he said. “For me, playing a more low-key romantic character … it’s wonderful.”
Ian McEwen plays Mr. Laurence, one of the March family’s wealthy neighbors and Theodore “Laurie” Laurence’s grandfather.
McEwen said he’s excited to perform in the coming weeks, and that being part of the production has been a great experience.
“It’s always just a pleasure to work with our community theater crew,” he said.
Jayni Parish is making her Kenai Performers debut as Beth March on Thursday. She said that although she has some gruelling scenes, the character is fun to play.
“I guess the hardest part about playing her is the death scene,” Parish said, adding that Jo March, played by Brittany Gilman, makes the moment more painful.
This is Parish’s first show with the Kenai Performers. Before she joined, she was a historical performer in California.
Gilman, McEwen and Burton studied theater in college and have been performing since elementary and middle school.
Pepper said he got his start in a production of “The Sound of Music” in fourth grade, and joined the Kenai Performers back in 2008.
Gilman said although the performers have been affected by the pandemic, they were still able to put on two shows in 2020. The first was in February, before the coronavirus reached a majority of the U.S., and the second was last summer.
The cast all said they are excited to be able to have an in-person event again, even with the mask requirement and limited audience members.
“I think it’s important to start getting some of these things back,” McEwen said. “We can start to enjoy some of these things that made us happy before.”
Harber said that because she’s vaccinated against COVID-19, she feels more comfortable being a part of a live performance. The mental health component of isolation, she said, has really taken a toll on everyone.
Even though the performers are seasoned actors, a lot of them still get nervous onstage.
Burton and Parish both said they were nervous before their dress rehearsal for the Kenai Middle School students on Monday.
“That was my first thought, like, ‘I forgot all my lines!’ ” Parish said.
Harber is a pastor, so she regularly speaks and sings in front of people. She said she still gets nervous in front of a crowd.
“You worked so hard … and you hope people receive it with the same love you have [for it],” she said.
Pepper, however, said he can’t remember the last time he was nervous. He has played all sorts of different roles and enjoys the vulnerability of being on stage.
“It’s exhilarating and it’s exciting,” Pepper said.
“Little Women” opens at 7 p.m. on May 20 at the Kenai Performers PAC building on K-Beach Road.
The show runs for three weekends: May 20-23, May 27-30 and June 3-6. Performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays begin at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sundays.
Tickets are not offered at the door. They can be purchased for $20 at kenaiperformers.org/buy-tickets, as well as the option for an on-demand video of the performance.
Gilman said she’s looking forward to the “Little Women” production, especially as restrictions begin to ease.
“I think this one is a nice ending to this timeline we’re on,” she said.