Jill Sharlock is stepping back a bit from the huge undertaking of directing the musical “Cats” a few years ago at the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale to directing a smaller, yet still very familiar, musical that will take the stage at the center next week.
“’Little Women,’ while obviously a much smaller production, makes me just as proud,” said Sharlock. “Directing a smaller musical allows for the chance to really get to work with the cast on character development - to spend more time delving into the nuances of each character. I would say that there is a bit more pressure on the cast to ‘sell the scene’ so to speak, as the set (unlike the set for ‘Cats’) will be minimal.”
The reason for the minimal set is in part due to the fact the show will take the stage just 10 days after the closing of a play on the same stage.
“I was actually asked by the Geyer board to direct a play instead of a musical for practical reasons as there were two shows on the schedule for the month of November,” Sharlock said. “We tossed around some names of plays and settled on ‘Little Women.’”
While they were looking over some of the play adaptations that were available for it she also read and listened to the musical version and fell in love with it, including a scene where a set of actors act out the novel that Jo March has written, which Sharlock said has the potential to be a show stopper.
“Our challenge in doing the musical version was that we would only have about ten days after the play scheduled ahead of us closed to stage it and to get the set built,” she said. “We decided that we could do it, and my technical director and I designed a set that is minimal yet gives an impact.”
The musical is based on the classic novel by Louisa Mae Alcott and Sharlock said the score is phenomenal, and difficult, “although the highly talented cast of this show make it look and sound so easy!”
The setting for this musical is during the Civil War, in the North and there are themes that run through the story that are always relevant.
“The themes of an absent father, of teenage girls navigating life and growing up, and that girls can break industry barriers, and most important to me, the theme that family matters - all matter as much today as they did then,” Sharlock said. “I love that the movie is being released soon, because it is a story that needs to be told over and over, to remind people of what is important.”
Jordan Gilbert of West Newton will take on the lead role of Jo March.
She admitted that before taking on this role, she really didn’t know anything about the show, but have since discovered that her character is an amazing role.
“When I first started getting ready for auditions, I didn’t know who I was interested in going for at all,” Gilbert said. “At first I didn’t even dream of trying for Jo, but I fell in love with the part once I started really looking into the show. My friends encouraged me to go for it, and I’m so glad I did!”
Gilbert added that she feels Jo is really similar to herself in a lot of ways.
“This role feels very natural to me, and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring the parts that aren’t natural too,” she said.
One of the challenges with this role is the enormity of it.
“I have over 300 lines and sing in more than half of the songs in the show,” she said. “It’s by far the biggest role I’ve ever had. It’s a good thing a lot of the character comes naturally, because memorizing everything has been a beast!”
The music in this show is another challenge because of the degree of difficulty.
“I’m a relatively experienced singer, but the quantity and caliber of music makes this show into something of a vocal marathon,” she said. “Taking care of my voice is feeling like a full time job.”
But there’s no doubt that this production is a high point for Gilbert out of all the shows she’s done over the years.
“Overall, this show has been a testament to hard work paying off: I spent five months getting ready for auditions, reading the novel and listening to the original cast recording— and years before that honing my skills,” Gilbert said.
Justin Williams of Uniontown plays Professor Fritz Bhaer.
He said that of the four male roles in the show, he was able to most closely relate to this one.
“The best part is that since the show is about the little women, my character only appears a handful of times in the show,” he said.
But there is some degree of difficulty with it as the character is German.
“I have never prepared a German accent for a role, but I am happy to dive into the challenge,” he said.
Williams added that this is his first exposure to “Little Women” and he has definitely gained a new appreciation for the story.
Sharlock has been involved in theater for several years, mostly behind the scenes, because she gets such pure enjoyment from it, no matter how big or small the involvement.
“I get to do something I am passionate about and that I love doing,” she said. “Every show I work, I try to use as an ability to improve my skills”
One of the things she tried to improve with this show was simply just trusting her instincts.
“I have found that I can re-think, overthink and re-work a scene a million times, but I usually end up going back to my original idea and it is good,” she said.
The show is set to hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21-23 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 24 at the Geyer Performing Arts Center, 111 Pittsburgh St., Scottdale. Ticket are $15 and can be purchased at www.geyerpac.com, by calling 724-887-0887 or at the door.