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Grab a ‘slice of life’ at KVTA’s new Black Box Theatre

February 8, 2019

If you’ve never attended a production by the Kankakee Valley Theatre Association, now is the time to buy your tickets.

“Little Women,” a musical based on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic novel, will be performed by KVTA cast and crew this weekend and next weekend at their new Black Box Theatre at their Kankakee studios, located at 1 Stuart Drive in the former Kankakee Co-Op building across the street from L & G Marine.

The musical, which originally appeared on Broadway in 2005, is a perfect show to unveil the group’s new stage. The intimate production boasts a cast of 11, which will fit greatly on the modest stage, allowing audience members to feel closer to the actors and more engaged with the story.

“Little Women” director Debbie Emling, of Herscher, said KVTA always has hoped to one day introduce a theatre to call their own. They enjoy performing at other venues, such as the Lincoln Cultural Center in Kankakee, but “we like to try to do things for the community,” she said, “so we thought it’d be a great idea for us to create our own theatre.”

Emling is proud to be the first director to produce a show on the group’s Black Box Theatre, though it is a markedly different style and size when compared to previous venues.

“I was up to the challenge,” she said. “Plus, I wanted to work with a smaller cast, a more intimate setting — I’m used to a big cast.”

Starring in the small cast of “Little Women” is Olivet Nazarene University student Bek Szilagyi, who is cast as Jo March, the character whom many believe is based on Alcott’s own person.

Szilagyi was originally “not expecting much” from auditioning, but she now is pleased to be performing with KVTA for the first time.

Szilagyi, who never read Alcott’s book, said she first heard of the show after her show choir group performed the song, “Astonishing,” from the musical’s soundtrack. She was wowed by the song and has enjoyed the story ever since.

“It has an amazing score,” Emling agreed.

The music is just one reason why Lauren Rybolt, of Bradley, is excited about the upcoming performances. She is cast as Beth March, one of Jo’s three sisters, who were also inspired by Alcott’s own family members.

“I love the sisterhood of it. It’s super fun and playful,” Rybolt said on why she auditioned. “But I really love the music. It’s very classic. And there are certain scenes that just really tug on my heart-strings, and I just recently stopped crying while singing them.”

“And I still cry when I see them,” Emling said. “And I will to the last day. This show brings you through a bunch of different emotions.”

Though the production is sure to make audiences of all ages and genders laugh and then cry, the crew is hesitant to label it as a simple “dramedy.”

“It’s very much like a ‘slice of life’ theater,” said Alexis Tanner, of Bourbonnais, who works as the assistant director alongside Case Koerner. “You’re seeing the life and times of these women living in the Civil War era. It’s just like your family — you have happiness and sadness and great things and bad things happen — it’s very much like that.”

“It’s a classic,” Szilagyi agreed. “So it’s got a lot of issues that it tackles.”

Though the show is called, “Little Women,” all the cast and crew agree it will appeal to more than just women audiences.

“I think for the older crowd, it’ll bring back a lot of nostalgia — not because they were born in 1889 — but because there’s so many playful moments,” Tanner said. “What makes this show so relatable is it [deals with] things that have happened to us as humans.

“It’s not ‘in your face’ with the feminism,” she explained, “but it is very apparent that [Jo] is a feminist icon.”

Emling said it’s a story of everyone — not just women — “finding their own way.”

Michael Pueschell, of Watseka, who is cast as Professor Bhaer in his first production with KVTA, agrees with Emling, believing the show is not just for women.

“I would hope the guys [in the audience] would understand that it’s just a great story,” he said. “There’s an interesting coming of age story for all the male roles, as well.”

The show, while certainly entertaining, can be used to teach younger generations lessons about staying true to oneself and rejecting societal pressures to conform or change.

“My hope is that moms and grandmothers and sisters would bring their young kids, and the show — specifically Jo March’s character — would inspire the children to just be ambitious and driven and follow whatever dream they have,” Tanner explained.

Szilagyi said her character is displayed as “a rough and tough person,” the kind her father would want her to become.

“Though Jo’s the main character you focus on, you see her mother and all her sisters develop in their own way,” she explained, “and then how they grow and their paths change.”

Even if you’ve never heard of the novel before, the cast recommends the show for anyone interested in great theatre and acting roles.

Pueschell explains how, though the 2-hour-and-30-minute show is full of breaking plot twists and a plethora of drama, some of the best parts of the show are the most simple.

“I was talking to my wife last night about the show,” he said, “and I was telling her about how my favorite line in the show — when Szilagyi, as Jo, just says ‘C’mon!’ That’s my absolute favorite line.

“Every time she says that line, I just want to cry and say, ‘Please be my best friend,’ to her character.”

Pueschell admits his favorite line in the show is awfully insignificant but says “there’s just something about that moment.”

“I feel like every character has this little moment that just rips my heart out for a second, and I don’t even know why. … Everyone has that little moment when it feels like you’re standing in front of a painting, and it’s like you want to cry and you don’t even know why.”

Emling says she felt that way every night the cast has rehearsed, and she can’t wait for the public to take a bite of the “slice of life” at KVTA’s new digs.

“Little Women” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, as well as 7 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16, and 2 p.m. Feb. 17.

A sold-out performance for area junior and high school students will be held at 9 a.m. Feb. 14.

Tickets with general admission seating can be purchased at the door or online at kvta.org/littlewomen. Regular tickets are $20 (including fees) or $17 for students or seniors.

For more information, visit KVTA’s website or find them on Facebook.

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