Kari Boldon Welch at new VLTPhoto by Bob Keefer

Very Little Theatre 2.0

VLT bounces back from the pandemic with new bylaws, revised branding, a refurbished performance hall and — finally! — Little Women, the Musical

More than two years after what was supposed to be its final dress rehearsal, Little Women, the Musical, will at last be staged at Eugene’s Very Little Theatre when it opens Friday, August 5, and runs through August 20.

And when it does finally open, it will be in a totally revamped theater. The VLT board took advantage of the lengthy pandemic shutdown to undertake a $1.7 million renovation.

Little Women was one of three productions in town — the others were Eugene Opera’s Tosca and Actors Cabaret’s Sunset Boulevard — whose casts and crews found out following final dress rehearsals that the show doesn’t, in fact, always go on when Gov. Kate Brown issued the first lockdown order of the pandemic on March 12, 2020.

At the time, director Kari Boldon Welch expected the shutdown would be relatively brief. “We all thought we’d be back to making theater again in six months,” she says. “My original hope was to keep the original cast together.”

The musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic two-part novel, which ran on Broadway in 2005, has book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland. The novels and show tell the story of the four March sisters growing up during the Civil War.

In the production about to be staged at VLT, seven members of the original cast have stayed on, though not all of them in the roles they were to play two years ago. The lead role, that of the aspiring writer Jo March, will still be played by Morgan James.

One of the stars of the show will certainly be the newly revamped theater building. Built in 1950 and constructed in the style of a Quonset hut, but using local Douglas-fir timbers, the old VLT was dark, cozy and charismatic. But the seats were small and uncomfortable, with little leg room, and even with the house lights turned on the room was dark and a bit dismal.

A bigger problem was the stage itself, which lacked a fly loft above the performance space where backdrops and curtains could be hung.

Enter Eugene architect Otto Poticha, who managed to rebuild the old VLT without destroying its character. His design removed the lower side walls of the old building, adding aisle space and airiness to the old dark hall. He put in modern LED lighting up in the dark ceiling of the auditorium. The redesign cuts the house seating capacity from 217 to 200 but improves sight lines and comfort.

And he added a large fly loft in which backdrops can be hung.

The remodel is part of a larger re-envisioning undertaken by the VLT board over the past two years, says Jessica Ruth Baker, who was hired in 2020 as interim executive director — the first time the community theater has had a paid executive director. Administrative changes, Baker says, include revising VLT’s branding with a new logo and website, as well as bringing the nonprofit theater’s bylaws — written in the 1930s — into the 21st century and making clear commitments to diversity and inclusivity.

Tickets for Very Little Theatre’s production of Little Women, the Musical can be purchased at The VLT.com.

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