Bruce said the show, which debuted with the Southgate Community Players in 1994, predates the Broadway version of the story by a decade.
“The small cast, seven in this treatment, and the choice to through-compose the book makes it move quickly and economically, while not compromising the full and very rich text of the novel,” he said.
Bruce said his theater friends Kirk and Valerie Haas approached him about doing the show at Barefoot, and the musical was originally slated to close out the theater’s 2019-20 season, but was canceled when COVID-19 shuttered theaters worldwide. Now, two years later, the show will open in the same time slot.
The cast, directed by Bruce, consists of Leah Cooley of Lincoln Park as Marmee March; Ashley Gatesy of Westland as Jo March; Ivy Hansen of Southgate as Beth March; Erin Phipps of West Bloomfield as Meg March; Maggie Comiskey of Livonia as Amy March; Nathan Vasquez of Wyandotte as Laurie Laurence; and Donald Corbin of Southgate as Father March, Grandfather Laurence and Aunt March.
He said that part of the Louisa May Alcott novel was originally serialized for a magazine.
“I think that those who do not care for the novel are often put off by the number of chapters that don’t seem to do much to further the story of the March family,” Bruce said. “Each of them has a rising and falling action and ends cleanly, but not all of the adventures are as exciting or interesting as the others.”
He said he chose the best stories from the novel to create the two-hour musical.
Bruce said he hopes audiences are moved by the music and lyrics brought to life by the performers and musicians.
He said this rendition has more costumes than the original production, as well, with Cooley, who plays Marmee, designing the show’s costumes.
“What started out as a show that required just 22 period costumes now utilizes 60,” he said.
Audiences will also experience musicians playing the score live, which Bruce said creates a unique, acoustic sound.
“I hope they are moved by the music, lyrics and unusual book treatment brought to life by this wonderfully gifted group of singers and musicians,” he said.
Cooley said anytime she can work on a Paul Bruce show, she jumps at the chance.
She said she played the role of Marmee in the musical version popularized by the Broadway production, and Bruce’s version of the character allows her to further develop the role.
“Marmee is the paragon mother – strong, wise, clever and brave – but she makes mistakes and is all too human,” Cooley said. “I tried to use my own experience as a mother and caregiver to shed light on Marmee’s journey as she grows in her own self-identity and as her family gradually changes.”
She said that at its core, “Little Women” is about self-discovery and conviction of spirit when faced with a war-ravaged world and changing social constructs.
“Who couldn’t relate to that?” Cooley said. “This is a beautiful retelling of a classic tale, and we all need to remember that hardship and loss can be overcome, and lead us forward to a better future.”
Corbin said that the March family’s struggles and solutions are similar to the challenges people face today, and tells the story with gorgeous music.
“The lyrics are precise and at times complex, but articulate the story very well,” he said. “The musical’s book, music and lyrics were all penned by Paul. Come witness a musical that was created locally and meet its brilliant creator afterward.”
Phipps said the music is challenging, and she has been working hard to do Bruce’s music justice.
“I want to make sure every single note and word come across perfect and clear,” she said. “‘Little Women – A Little Musical’ takes its audience on a journey as you follow the March family through their happiest and most tragic life events. You will leave the show smiling and feeling like part of the March family.”
Gatesy said Jo March, her character, has been a literary favorite of hers for many years.
“I love her ambition and willingness to follow her heart and dreams, even if that doesn’t fit with society’s expectations of a woman in that time period,” she said. “I think there is something so raw and vulnerable about creating a character in front of other people, but everyone in the cast has been so warm and accepting of each other.”
Hansen said the she has enjoyed bonding with the cast during the rehearsal process, as well as working with Bruce.
“It has helped me step into my family’s shoes and become even closer with my character and my onstage family, who have taken care of me and helped me with the show,” she said.
Vasquez said when there is no cast recording on which to base your interpretation, it is up to each actor to learn and understand the score.
“While that has been challenging, learning all these original songs and being able to put your own spin on it has definitely been fun,” he said. “You’re not going to see another show like this – it’s a truly unique, intimate theatrical experience.”
Vasquez said he loves the novel “Little Women,” which he said is an amazing piece of American literature.
“We have all seen adaptations over the years, but Paul Bruce brings a gentleness to the story, and a closeness to the characters that we can all relate to, something you won’t find in other versions,” he said. “It’s about family, and despite their differences, the love they have as a family is stronger than any obstacles they face. I think it’s a great reminder of how important families can be.”
The June 3 opening night performance is sold out. The remaining shows are 8 p.m. June 4, 10 and 11, and 2 p.m. June 5 to 12 at Barefoot Productions, 33735 Five Mile Road in Livonia.
Tickets are $19, with a $2 discount for seniors and students. To order, call the box office at 734-855-4922 or go to justgobarefoot.com/tickets.