When music director Malaika Horswill took the 28 youthful cast members of Little Women to sing outside on the first day of this summer’s Capitol Theatre youth theatre program, she nearly cried.
“It was the first time I had heard a group of singers all singing together in a very long time,” she says. “I got choked up. It was just just so beautiful to hear all their voices together.”
Cast member Cetonaya Sammartino, who plays one of the lead roles in Little Women, feels the same way. She’s been missing her favourite activities, singing and acting.
“So much joy,” she says. “I’m so happy to be back.”
The musical theatre version of Little Women is the 33rd annual edition of the Capitol Theatre’s summer youth program.
The hallmark of the program is the rare opportunity it gives young performers to work intensively with professional directors, sound engineers, choreographers, music directors, lighting designers, and stage managers.
Little Women is directed and stage-designed by Adriana Bogaard with choreography by Carly Brandel.
Bogaard says she used to think it was normal for people to take to a stage and sing, act, dance together. Until it wasn’t.
“After that being gone for so long, sitting in here every day now and watching people perform, and working on it together, it’s a total privilege. It feels so amazing to do it every day, and you think oh, right, this is what my life has been missing for a year.”
“And to see joyful young people doing it,” says Horswill. “There’s something even more magical about that.”
Horswill and Bogaard both grew up in Nelson and performed in the program in their youth. In their roles as young performers and as adult directors and assistants, Horswill has logged 14 years and Bogaard seven.
During the three-and-a-half weeks of full time rehearsals for Little Women, the cast, directors and crew have all worn masks. But for the public performances starting on July 29, the masks will come off.
But the Capitol is recommending that the audience wear masks. Seats will be booked with a buffer of one vacant seat in every direction around each party of patrons. The first five rows of seats will not be used, to create distance between the audience and the stage.
Based on writer Louisa May Alcott’s life, Little Women follows the adventures of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March. Jo is trying to sell her stories for publication, but the publishers are not interested. Her friend, Professor Bhaer, tells her that she has to do better and write more from herself. Begrudgingly taking this advice, Jo weaves the story of herself and her sisters and their experience growing up in Civil War America.
Bogaard says the current cast (age 12 to 18) is strong. She and Horswill expected this because they’ve directed the program for the past three years and they know many of the older lead performers who started younger in previous years.
“They are mature enough now to take on these roles,” says Bogaard. “Over the three years that we’ve been directing, they’ve been growing up. There’s a lot of heavy stuff in Little Women that they can take on now.”
The character of Jo March is played by two actors: 14-year-old Cetonaya Sammartino as the younger Jo and 17-year-old Isabel McAleer as the older.
“Jo very determined,” says Sammartino. “She’s ambitious, and she knows what she wants, even though she knows that it’ll be hard getting it. She’s just very determined to get there. She knows she can do it.”
Asked if she is similar to Jo, Sammartino says, “I think I am. I try my best to be me. Sometimes I can be discouraged but I do my best to keep my hopes high and just work hard to get where I want to be.”
McAleer also feels connected to Jo.
“She’s very empowering to both women and just people in general. She was really making strides in her time. She’s also just a very fiery person. And I think that’s very inspiring, no matter where you are in your life. Especially for young women, she’s very much a beacon of light and a beacon of what you can really achieve.”
Performances of Little Women are at 7:30 p.m. on July 29 and 30, and at 2 p.m. on July 31. Tickets can be purchased at www.capitoltheatre.ca.