July 07--The first problem in adapting Louisa May Alcott's novel "Little Women," playwright Cody Daigle discovered, is that the only little thing about the book is its title.
"All I knew was the movie that came out in the 1990s," he said. "So I went out and bought my first copy of the book and was immediately terrified because the book is enormous."
Still, added Courtneay Sanders, artistic director of Playhouse Tulsa who commissioned Daigle to write "Little Women" for the company's SummerStage Tulsa production, "The last thing we wanted was to do a 'Cliff Notes' version of the story. But at the same time, we didn't want a play that's going to last four hours."
The solution to this problem will have its world premiere Friday when Playhouse Tulsa's production of "Little Women" opens in the Tulsa PAC's Williams Theatre.
Sanders said the company originally wanted to do a musical for SummerStage -- "Pippin" was the first choice.
"But we figured that the rights would be difficult to obtain, since it was about to open on Broadway when we were making our plans," she said. "Then I happened to hear the recording of the musical version of 'Little Women' and thought we'd do that.
"But my musical director was going to be tied up with other projects through the summer. So I thought the story hadn't been done here for a while, the book itself is in the public domain, and one of my best friends is a playwright. We'll just do a new version."
Daigle has worked with Playhouse on several occasions. He wrote the play "William and Judith," which premiered during the company's 2011-2012 season. He also has performed in Playhouse's productions "Shining City" and "The Tempest," both of which were winners of the Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence.
"All my experiences with Playhouse have been so wonderful that pretty much whenever Courtneay asked me to do something, I say yes," Daigle said.
"But this was a tougher adaptation than most," he said. "It's such a sprawling story, with lots of characters we follow over a long period of time. I had to make a lot of choices about the incidents to include."
Daigle compared adapting a novel to the stage to piecing together a puzzle.
"You have to preserve the integrity of the source material, while still translating the story so it will work in a different medium," he said.
Then there is the preconceptions many people have about "Little Women."
"It's a story -- or at least a title -- that just about everyone knows," Sanders said. "But we wanted to avoid doing a stereotypical 'Little Women,' which to me would be very sentimental and domestic.
"When you take a look at what happens in this story, what this family goes through and the obstacles they have to overcome is pretty incredible. For me, that's what I love about this story -- the journey of this family and how they were able to survive, not just as individuals, but as a unit."
Still, Daigle said, the individuals who populate "Little Women" were one of the attractions for writing the play.
"I love the fact that one strand of the story is about a writer and about her discovering that this is what she wants to do," he said. "I've always loved writing for women, and the women in the March family are all very well-drawn, distinctive characters. And I loved the opportunity to create roles for some great actresses."
The cast for "Little Women" features Tabitha Littlefield as Jo, Courtney Farney as Beth, Anna Bennett as Meg and Grace Stump as Amy. Sanders, who directs, also plays the role of Marmee.
Sanders said this production of "Little Women" will have a life beyond SummerStage.
In October, it will be performed at the Delta Grand Theater in Opelousas, La., where Daigle serves as programming director.
"We're wanting to create a regional touring program," Sanders said. "We're wanting to make 'Little Women' available for additional touring during the 2014-15 season. And the show we're planning for SummerStage production for next year will be another adaptation that will also be designed to tour."
"LITTLE WOMEN" PRESENTED BY PLAYHOUSE TULSA
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. July 14
Where: Williams Theatre, Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St.
Tickets: $19-$24. 918-596-7111, tulsaworld.com/mytix.
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)
Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at www.tulsaworld.com
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