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BWW Feature: Hale Center Theater Orem Yearns for Days of Plenty with LITTLE WOMEN

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BWW Feature: Hale Center Theater Orem Yearns for Days of Plenty with LITTLE WOMEN

Hale Center Theater Orem has been waiting patiently to finally open its first new post-quarantine show, and its production of LITTLE WOMEN strikes just the right chord at this moment in time.

"I never dreamed of this sorrow
I never thought I'd have reason to lament
I hoped I'd never know heartbreak
How I wish I could change the way things went"

Mindi Dicke's lyrics from the musical's moving 11 o'clock number "Days of Plenty" feel fitting for the journey that Hale Center Theater Orem is--all of us are--going through.

Immediately following its closure in March due to the pandemic, Hale Center Theater Orem went straight to work finding ways to bring theatre to its patrons. It kept busy with a full calendar of streaming performances through Hale@Home, both opening its vault to share archival film and mounting new socially distant productions especially for streaming. These included a celebration of graduates and a "Songs of Hope" concert that featured 6-time Tony winner Audra McDonald and Tony nominee Will Swenson, along with a slew of other Broadway talent with local ties.

Planned productions of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN had to be scuttled due to time and budget pressures. It was announced that a remounting of Hale Center Theater Orem's 2018 hit play SENSE & SENSIBILITY would join the season this fall.

When they felt the time was right to physically reopen based on government safety regulations and guidelines, the theatre successfully finished out its interrupted production of MATILDA while rehearsing LITTLE WOMEN. But just as the show was finally about to open, a cast member tested positive for COVID-19. The theatre immediately cancelled rehearsals, postponed the opening, tested the entire cast, and transparently disclosed the situation publicly. Due to their quick and responsible actions, the show was able to open safely after weeks of delay.

Precautions put in place by the theatre include masking and physical distancing of cast and crew in rehearsals and backstage along with daily temperature and symptom checks. Masks are required for patrons and staff the entire time they are in the building, and clear directives are given aurally and visually on walking pathways for social distancing. There is a one-seat buffer between parties, all seating and surfaces are deep cleaned and sanitized, and no physical programs are distributed.

Hale Center Theater Orem's LITTLE WOMEN was worth the wait. Intimate and moving, it entices audience members to escape into its story while keeping their feet firmly grounded in reality.

LITTLE WOMEN (music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dicke, book by Allan Knee), based on Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel, tells the story of the four March sisters and their mother in Civil War-era Massachusetts. The focal point is Jo March, a tomboy who yearns to travel and write great books.

Director David Morgan has an uncanny ability to tap into the emotions of his actors to find authentic reactions and interactions uninhibited by artifice. The characters and situations feel real, making them even more relevant.

Although acting is weighed over singing, for the most part this works to augment and not harm the wonderful score. However, in the case of the stirring Act I finale, "Astonishing," much is lost emotionally and artistically without acting through thrilling vocal technique rather than the other way around. The charged moment that is typically the highlight of the show falls flat. Luckily, the emotive delivery of the companion Act II number "The Fire Within Me" is pulled off successfully due to its poignant context.

As Jo, Becca Ashton (double cast with Scout Smith) is a force of energy masterfully channeled and restrained though nuanced performance, unmistakably leading the cast without overpowering.

Jordan Mazzocato (double cast with Tanner Garner) is an utterly superb Laurie. It's a difficult part to get right, and he is completely endearing with impressive vocals to boot.

Other standouts in the strong, cohesive cast include the warm Dianna Graham as Marmee (double cast with Shaunna Thompson) and wry David Matthew Smith as Professor Bhaer (double cast with George Banner.

The rest of the March sisters are tenderly portrayed by Jessica Sundwall Hudson as Meg (double cast with Rachel Woodward Hansen), Malia Mackay as Beth (double cast with Amber Dodge), and Louisa Porter as Amy (double cast with Ondine Garner).

The stunning costumes by Dennis Wright, together with the hair and makeup by Bekah Wilbur, paint a picture befitting the era and situation. They are in lockstep with the set design by Cole McClure and lighting design by Ryan Fallis to together convey the sentiment of the piece.

"You have to believe
There is reason for hope
You have to believe
That the answers will come"

Just as the March family, Hale Center Theater Orem refuses to be defeated and will carry on with hope for days of plenty to come.

LITTLE WOMEN plays through September 12, 2020. In order to accommodate socially distanced seating, tickets must be purchased from the box office at 801-226-8600. For more information, visit www.haletheater.org.

Photo Credit: L-R Louisa Porter (Amy), Becca Ashton (Jo), Jessica Sundwall Hudson (Meg), Malia Mackay (Beth). Photo by Suzy O Photography.


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From This Author Tyler Hinton