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March sisters come to life at this Port Coquitlam high school

Port Coquitlam's Riverside Secondary School switched the genders for Professor Bhaer in "Little Women - The Musical." The production opens Feb. 2, 2023.

The pandemic made them rethink their choice of show.

Seeing the enrolment dwindle for the Musical Theatre 10–12 class at Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Secondary, the students with the school’s River’s Edge Theatre last May pitched a smaller production for 2023.

Why not the musical Little Women? they asked drama teacher Nicole Roberge at the time.

After all, the cast would be mostly female and there would be 30 actors — not 60 — to double-cast the 15 roles.

“It’s very different from previous pieces we’ve done at Riverside,” Roberge said.

“It’s a lot more intimate.”

Last fall, following an audition, Roberge selected Grade 12er Sophia Dato and Scarlett Stratton, a Grade 11 student who also trains at the Lindbjerg Academy of Performing Arts in the Rising Stars Advance program, to alternate as Jo March, the lead part in Little Women: The Musical.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novels by Louisa May Alcott, written in 1868–69, Little Women is set at a home in Concord, Mass., and tells the story on the four March sisters:

  • Jo, a writer
  • Meg, a traditionalist
  • Beth, a shy girl
  • Amy, the romantic

Their father is serving in the American Civil War.

The work was recast into a musical with a book penned by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland.

The River’s Edge production follows their script; however, there is a gender flip for one character: Professor Bhaer.

“We wanted to bring out the LGBTQ side and make the play as inclusive as possible,” said Stratton, who plans to pursue a career as a neo-natal surgeon in New York City after graduation.

Dato, who’s eyeing the University of Arizona - Tempe or Douglas College to train as an elementary school teacher this fall, said Jo March is a character she’s loved since she read the book five years ago.

During the pandemic, she also saw the 2019 movie version starring Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh.

Dato said she connects with the role because she, too, is a writer.

“Jo defies the social norms of her time,” Stratton added. “She wears pants. She shakes hands with people she’s met. She chops firewood. She wants to be different and do something incredible with her life. She’s an inspiration to us all!”

Meanwhile, River’s Edge Theatre will head to New Westminster in May to represent School District 43 — and its drama zone — at NTS DramaFest, the  theatrical competition for high schools around B.C.

The team will present its student-written play I’m Fine at the festival, which is produced in partnership with the Association of B.C. Drama Educators (ABCDE).

Tickets to see Little Women: The Musical are $13/$10. The show runs Feb. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11 at Riverside Secondary (2215 Reeve St., Port Coquitlam). Visit the school’s website for tickets or click here.