Rebekah Pearson has never seen Little Women in any of its acclaimed screen adaptations, including the renowned 1994 Winona Ryder version. In preparing to play the role of Jo March in Spreckels upcoming production of Little Women: The Musical, Pearson has only allowed herself to read the original novel, by Louisa May Alcott.
“It was a very deliberate choice I made not to watch any of the films,” explains Pearson. “I really didn’t want them to influence my own take on the character. I wouldn’t want to accidentally copy anything that’s been done before by any of the wonderful ladies who’ve played Jo.”
In a season bursting with stage adaptations of classic stories Little Women is one of the few holiday musicals. Directed by Thomas Chapman (who directed last year’s giddy Bell, Book and Candle), this 2005 adaptation by Jason Howland, Mindi Dickstein and Allan Knee was a hit on Broadway, where it helped make stage-and-screen songstress Sutton Foster a star.
Though the musical strays a bit from the detail of the book, it’s a mostly faithful rendering of the indelible tale of the March family, which endures a series of hardships and Civil War–era setbacks with courage, humor and a strong sense of family loyalty.
“It’s just such a wonderful story,” says Pearson, “and Jo March is an incredible role, especially in the musical version. Sutton Foster’s performance makes for some big shoes to fill, but it’s been so wonderful finding ways to make the character my own.”
Asked what she’s learned about Jo that helped her bring life to the character, Pearson doesn’t hesitate.
“Jo is a very passionate person, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Pearson says. “She’s very excited about her life and her own future, beyond the boundaries of what society, at that time, had set for women. She wants to go beyond that, and she does.”
Pearson adds that the musical version, with the added emotional oomph that comes with a great score, helps illustrate Jo’s inner life.
“Jo can be very emotional,” Pearson laughs. “She gets upset easily. She’s rather dramatic. In the musical version, we see that especially well.”