When it comes to December theater, you can go with a dedicated holiday story or you can focus on a tale with themes indicative of the season. The Empty Space chose the latter with "Little Women The Musical," which opens Friday.
Director Abby Bowles-Votaw has long been a fan of the story, written by Louisa May Alcott, espousing the importance of family, love and standing up for your convictions. Also an actress, Bowles-Votaw starred as older sister Meg in the production at Spotlight Theatre 10 years ago.
"I fell in love with the show then," she wrote in an email. "Being able to direct it this time around has allowed me to embrace different themes of the show and look at it from a contrasting viewpoint than an actor would."
Bowles-Votaw directs a strong cast for the March sisters, all standouts in their own way: headstrong Jo (Hailey Morey), sentimental Meg (Carolyn Fox), kind-hearted Beth (Kara Coughenour) and Amy, a role shared by Sarah Wright (as the younger version) and Victoria Lusk.
She came to the show as she and Kristina Saldana, the theater's financial director, discussed holiday musicals. They agreed the musical, with its emphasis on family, was a great fit.
"The holidays are notorious for families coming together and either making up for lost time or strengthening the already secure relationships," Bowles-Votaw said. "'Little Women' is one women's journey in finding what family means to her. There is a reason that this story is still so powerful since its original published date of 1869."
Although she played the cooler-headed older sister, Bowles-Votaw said she relates with Jo, as she feels many girls and women do.
She said, "It's not often that you can bring a strong, powerful, ingenue into a family-driven story and make it work from the book to the stage."
She cites a particularly moving scene between Jo and her mother, Marmee (Jennifer Prow), after the young writer suffers a great loss.
"They have an incredible moment," she wrote. "Jo's mother teaches her that you can still feel and have emotion while trying to be strong and brave. This is often my fallback in my own life. But that scene hits me particularly stronger than others."
The story's themes of compassion, hard work, charity, temperance and self-reflection are as relevant today as they were nearly 150 years ago, Bowles-Votaw said.
The performers and story will have done their job if "audiences can look inward after seeing this show and see how they can enhance one of these topics in their own lives," she said.
"Little Women" opens Friday and runs Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 23. In addition to general admission ($10-$15) and reserved seating ($20), guests can also opt for a Tea for Two table, a front-row table that seats two and includes an assortment of cookies, cakes and hot cider ($50).