The Golden Chain Theatre opened its 50th anniversary season March 24 with the family focused Little Women the Musical, based on Louisa May Alcot’s semi-autobiographical novel that has been cherished by children and adults for six generations.
The play features the stories of the four poor, yet respectable March sisters, Jo (Lyric Gianna) the independent aspiring writer - Meg (Jennifer Janine) the romantic - Beth (Alli Ruiz) the kind-hearted - and Amy (Emma Prescott and Amber Persson) the pretentious one.
The story chronicles the journey of each of these girls from childhood to womanhood in a Civil War-torn society. While father is away fighting the confederates, their beloved mother, Marmee (RuthAnn VanBuren), desperately attempts to keep their Concord, Massachusetts home together .
VanBuren provides warmth and tenderness to her role as the girls’ mother and Janine delivers another solid performance as sister Meg. Ruiz, 16, is the perfectly casted sweet-natured sister Beth, while the talented 10-year old Prescott plays a young Amy with plenty of sass.
Director James Mierkey put together a strong ensemble cast. Notable performances are given by Brandon Mallard (Professor Bhaer), George Rich (John Brooke), Cynthia McFann (Aunt March), Miranda Simonich (Mrs. Kirk), and Eben Hammond (Theodore Lawrence).
But from the opening curtain, in a scene set in 1865 with Jo (Gianna) receiving another rejection letter for her ‘blood and guts’ story, it’s her portrayal of the opinionated and feisty daughter that makes the production memorable.
“It’s the story of a very memorable character that makes it so special ... all I’m doing is filling in her shoes and portraying her feelings,” said the humble Gianna. “I’m incredibly honored to play Jo because she is such a huge role model to people because her ambitions are so strong and she never gives up.”
Gianna, 19, started singing and dancing as a child and was introduced to theater at a young age, tagging along with her mother (Jennifer Janine) who was involved in the Bakersfield Music Theater. It was there that she participated in summer acting workshops, including parts in the productions of Jungle Book, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Beauty and the Beast.
At 11, Gianna and her mother moved to Oakhurst and joined the Golden Chain Theatre. Gianna remembers playing several characters in her first GCT production, the historical Wild West Women, in 2011.
Between Wild West Women and Little Women, there have been so many roles in so many plays, Gianna finds it hard to remember them all. But some of her memorable performances have included Mable in (The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley), Willy Wonka (Wonka the Musical), Hodel (Fiddler on the Roof), Elena (The Wardrobe), Johnny Leibowitz (Shake), Shelby Eatenton Latcherie (Steel Magnolias) and Elvira Condamine (Blithe Spirit). One could say at 19, she’s already a confident GCT veteran.
But this latest performance of a young woman dealing with an absent father, illness of a sister, romance and her personal independence, is impressive and showcases Gianna’s talents like nothing before.
The first act closes with Gianna’s solo - the most powerful and inspirational song in the show, Astonishing, which pretty much defines her overall performance in Little Women the Musical.
Two other likeable songs are Five Forever and The Most Amazing Thing.
“Though it was published in 1868, the messages encompassed in this story are still very poignant today,” Mierkey said. “The story certainly stands on its own but when the musical setting was added in 2005, these beautiful and emotionally stirring songs take this story to a soaring flight directly into our hearts.”
Thanks to Gianna and the entire cast, Little Women makes for a very emotional and entertaining evening at the GCT.
Details: Little Women the Musical runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 9. Tickets are available at www.goldenchaintheatre.org, (559) 683-7112.