Merced County Times Newspaper
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TIMES PHOTOS BY BEVERLY BARELA

Don’t miss ‘Little Women’ musical at Playhouse Merced

Cossette Asenjo was outstanding as Jo March, the main character in ‘Little Women The Broadway Musical.’
Cossette Asenjo was outstanding as Jo March, the main character in ‘Little Women The Broadway Musical.’

In its production of “Little Women The Broadway Musical,” a talented Playhouse Merced cast does an amazing job of bringing to life the charming tale of the four March sisters (Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg), their mother, “Marmee” (played by Jenni Samuelson), and Aunt March (played by Alicia Bohlke), who are forced to weather harsh challenges in the days of the Civil War by depending on each other as well as their neighbors, Mr. Laurence (played by David Whitmyre) and Laurie Laurence (played by Isaiah Flores), while the man of the house is off at the battlefield.

As the audience is drawn into the dynamic of the March sisters’ sibling rivalry, nervousness about a first dance, the path taken when forging a friendship with someone of the opposite sex, and the bliss of first romances leading to marriage, the musical is a reminder of the importance of family, love and forgiveness.

It is also the story of Jo March (played by Cossette Asenjo), an aspiring writer and unique character.  Jo’s passion and confidence in her craft is repeatedly met with less than flattering responses.  But with her mother’s gentle guidance and by being true to herself, she perseveres through disappointments and tragedy to carve out a rewarding niche in the world and find the soul mate she deserves, Professor Bhaer (played by Jeffry Jackson).

Based on the classic novel, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, written in 1869, the musical — with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, musically directed by Playhouse Merced’s Dennis Brown — has a score of beautiful songs.  Each song is brilliantly performed by the cast members.

Playhouse Director Dusty Guthier expressed admiration for the abilities displayed by Cossette Asenjo as Jo, Makena Early as Amy, Madelyn Lara as Beth, and Carma Mize as Meg, commenting that they “are all 16 to 18-years-old.”

He exclaimed, “It’s astonishing the amount of talent in the Central Valley!”

Guthier wrote, “I’ve been blessed once again with a cast and crew that are all in for the challenge.  From the first day of rehearsal, this cast has been connected to this piece of work, each drawing from their own personal experiences to give their role authenticity and emotion, clarity and evolution. . . . As you watch the show, listen closely to the music wrapped around the words — so much more than the dialogue itself.  Each character has a story to tell, a challenge to accept, a struggle to overcome, a moment to cherish.”

During an interview after the show, the Times asked Cossette Asenjo, who is 16-years-old, how she was able to portray the main character, Jo, with all her complexities.

She said, “I think I’m a lot like Jo, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to come off as strong-willed, determined and caring.  But just learning about how Jo would react to circumstances and how Jo sees the world and putting that on stage is something I worked on.”

When asked about one of her favorite songs in the musical,  “Astonishing”, in which she conveys the emotions connected with feeling lost in life and then finding the strength to carry on, Asenjo said, “It’s right after all the sisters move on with their lives, and Jo is thinking, ‘What can I do?  Everyone’s leaving me.  There must be somewhere I can go to improve myself.’  It is a powerhouse of a song.”

She continued, “So she decides to take her things and go to New York.  She meets Professor Bhaer.  They at first have a conflicting relationship.  She’s strong-willed and so is he, but they end up falling in love at the end because they are actually a lot alike, more than they think.”

Asenjo enjoyed that part of the musical.  About working with Jeffry Jackson, who plays Professor Bhaer, said, “I’ve known him for a long time, and now we’re close friends.”

Playhouse Merced’s production of “Little Women The Broadway Musical” runs through May 19 at the theater located at 452 W. Main Street in Merced.  Contact the box office at 725-8587.

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