By Elliott Nguyen
The TCNJ Musical Theatre (TMT) opened its show, “Little Women,” Wednesday, marking its first in-person production in two years.
The musical was originally written as a novel by Louisa May Alcott but has been adapted for the stage several times.
Running about two hours and 40 minutes with a 15-minute intermission according to the program, “Little Women” follows the lives of the March sisters: Jo, played by Delaney Bogusz; Amy, played by Kit Weeden; Meg, played by Skylar Yannello; and Beth, played by Hannah Stratton.
They grow up in a modest household, raised only by their mother. As they reach adulthood, their lives take different paths, testing their bond. Themes of love, maturity and perseverance feature prominently in the story.
“I'm feeling so ecstatic to see people start to see everything that we've done,” said Zoe Talbot, a junior English and secondary education major and the club’s president. “Everyone has put so much effort into it, whether they have been a part of the production since April or since August.”
The show has been a long time coming, indeed. Back in the spring of 2020, TMT was just weeks away from opening its show, “The Wedding Singer,” when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down operations completely. Nathan Zipf, a junior political science and English major, plays Laurie Lawrence in “Little Women.”
“It was a sad experience having to put in all that work, two months of rehearsals, and then not be able to put on that show,” Zipf said in reference to the canceled show. “I think in general it makes the return of theatre to TCNJ better. It’s been a while since most of us have been able to do any show, and it’s a great feeling to find ourselves at home on stage again.”
Like Zipf, many in the club felt relieved to return to in-person operations. During quarantine, TMT produced an entirely student-run show titled “Mosaic Society,” which celebrated diversity. It was an impressive accomplishment to be sure, but not without its difficulties, according to Talbot.
“Being online in a theatre organization is about as challenging as it sounds. There are a lot of logistics that you don't think about,” Talbot said. “While a fulfilling experience, it's hard to have the social and intimate aspect that shows in person often have.”
“It’s nice that we were able to continue a form of theatrical performance, but nothing really compares to the feeling of being onstage,” Zipf said.
The cast performed five times in total: again on Thursday, twice on Saturday, and one final time on Sunday. Their performances, each of which was sold out, took place in the Don Evans Black Box Theater in Kendall Hall.
“It was a good time,” said Paul Russell, a junior English and secondary education major who attended the Thursday performance. “I’m usually not a huge musical fan, but I really enjoyed it. They put on a great show.”
Everyone present, including the entire cast, had to wear masks because of the College’s Covid-19 restrictions.
“It’s definitely limiting for both the performers and the audience,” Zipf said. He explained that vocal techniques require facial movement and certain types of breathing, which is made difficult by wearing a mask. By covering the actor’s faces, the masks also made it harder for them to express emotion.
“But we make do with what we have,” he said. “Considering the limit that masks put on our performances, I think everybody has done a phenomenal job.”
Russell felt the masks did not terribly hinder the performance.
“Obviously I expected everyone to be wearing masks, but they still managed to put on a good show,” he said. “You could still hear everybody, and it seemed like everyone was safe.”
Zipf described the feeling of seeing the familiar faces in the crowd of alumni who graduated during quarantine.
“It’s nice to see them come back and support us,” he said. “There’s definitely a sense of loyalty and family.”
Talbot agreed, reflecting on the lengthy process of hard work it took to get here.
“The bond formed with the cast and pro-staff has been unforgettable,” they said. “Theatre is such an intricate and intimate thing, and I owe so much of myself to the rehearsal process. Seeing it come together at dress rehearsals and performances make the countless hours of stress and time at practices more than worth it.”
The club experienced grief along their journey with the recent passing of Ben Watkins, a student who had a great presence in the music department and was a friend to the club.
“We’ve dedicated the show in his name because of the loss that affected not only our show but the entire music department as well,” Zipf said. “He was a very big voice to lose. While I didn’t know him, I can see the effect that he had on so many people."
Talbot expressed admiration for everyone involved and how they all came together to face adversity and produce a successful show.
“I'm so immensely proud of TMT in general for coming out of the virtual period stronger than it had been. We've struggled a lot trying to grow and change as an organization post-quarantine but we owe everything to members old and new,” Talbot said. “It's so nice to know that our motto ‘I found theatre and I found my home’ is true 10 times over. The people are truly the best thing about this organization, and I hope they know that.”
TMT will return to the stage in the spring semester with their show, “The Addams Family.”