"Little Women" Opens Town & Gown Summer Theatre Season

The upcoming 150th anniversaries of West Virginia’s statehood and the Civil War were two reasons “Little Women” was selected as the next production of Fairmont State University’s Town & Gown Summer Theatre.

The musical will be presented on FSU’s campus in Wallman Hall at 7:30 p.m. June 6-8 and at 2 p.m. June 9. Reserve seats are available online at www.fairmontstate.edu/tickets or by calling the Box Office at (304) 367-4240; tickets are $13 each.

Directed by Dr. Francene Kirk, “Little Women” is based upon Louisa May Alcott’s 19th

century novel. The musical brings to life the March family of Concord, Mass. In a time of Civil War and sacrifice, four sisters grow from girls into women, through romance and courtship, illness and loss, loving and letting go. It focuses on the March sisters: brassy, tomboy-like, aspiring writer Jo; romantic Meg; pretentious Amy; and kind-hearted Beth; and their beloved Marmee, at home while the family patriarch is away serving as a Union Army chaplain during the Civil War. Intercut with the vignettes in which their lives unfold are several recreations of the melodramatic short stories Jo writes in her attic studio.

“This coming-of-age story ties together the Civil War and West Virginia’s Sesquicentennial and is a good combination. We have some wonderful young women in our company who have developed into wonderful singers. We wanted to give them a character-driven story that would challenge them with a more complicated production,” Kirk said.

She noted that the decision to introduce the musical was a collective decision of the School of Fine Arts at FSU.

“Little Women is a classic book that a lot of people are familiar with,” she said. “When my grandmother heard we were doing it, she immediately remembered reading it. There also have been many versions of the movie.”

A faculty member at FSU for 13 years, Kirk’s role as director is to “facilitate everything.”

“I work with the actors on interpretation of the play, movement around the sets and stage. I work with the set designer and musical director. Mainly, my job is to interpret the script and have a vision for the play as well as collaborate with those involved with the production,” Kirk said.

The entire cast is comprised of actors from the community, the “town” part of Town & Gown Theatre. Dani Brake DeVito of Fairmont plays the main character, Jo, the fledgling writer. DeVito’s past acting experience is playing Annie in the Town & Gown production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” Maria in “The Sound of Music” and “Gertrude” in “Seussical the Musical.” She has been a part of the company since she was 15 years old.

Brady Dunn, a senior at Fairmont Senior High School, will play Laurie, who is infatuated with Jo. Dunn is one of what Kirk calls “The Dunn Family Players,” because his whole family--mother, father and brother Clay--have performed in previous productions over the years. An actor in Town & Gown plays since he was 8 years old, Dunn played the lead in “Oliver” and Jo Jo in “Seussical the Musical.”

Shannon Yost of Fairmont, a senior at Fairmont Senior High School who will attend FSU in the fall, is Beth in “Little Women,” and Maddie Lafollette of Fairmont who attends East Fairmont High School will play Meg. Bekah James of Bridgeport who attends Bridgeport Middle School is Amy, while Elizabeth Wotring-Nelson’s character is Marmee, the matriarch of the family. Wotring-Nelson is FSU’s musical voice teacher and a graduate of the Boston Conservatory. She also choreographed the show.

Playing the Professor in the play is Bill Hostutler, a Marion County Schools teacher who holds a degree from FSU.

Ray Mainenti, Dean of Academic Studies at Pierpont Community & Technical College, will act as Mr. Lawrence. Geoff Coyle, a sportscaster for WBOY-TV and WVIllustrated.com, has the part of Mr. Brooke.

John Morrison, piano teacher in the FSU Music Department, is the musical director for “Little Women.”

“I’m excited about the production and pleased with the cast,” Kirk said. “They are experienced and sing very well. We have been practicing for a couple of weeks, every night, with weekend rehearsals for music.”

Kirk directs one or two plays each year at FSU and leans toward musicals and children’s theatre. At the FSU, she also teaches children’s theatre, puppetry, creative drama and acting. As a high school teacher in theatre direction, she directed more than 50 plays and musicals. Kirk also performs in plays, “Our Town” and “Cabaret” among them.