After one full year of working to bring “Little Women” to the LifeHouse Theater stage, the sounds of audience reactions come sweetly to the ears of director Jana Smith. She has been involved with all five productions of this musical staged by LifeHouse Theater, which has allowed her to play three of the four March sisters, meet her husband, perform with family members and now serve as the show’s director.
“I always loved the book but having the chance to perform it with LifeHouse is what took the story from being a favorite book, to being a part of my own personal story,” Smith commented.
Jana’s journey with “Little Women” began in 1998 when she was cast in the role of Amy, a part she would reprise in 2000. “Little Women” was staged again in 2003 and this time, Jana was cast in the lead role of Jo March. Cast in the role of Professor Bhaer was Nathan Smith, who would become Jana’s real-life husband.
“I was told that they were having a hard time finding someone to play Professor Bhaer, and one of the cast knew a guy from church who agreed to play the part, but he wasn’t available until tech week,” related Smith. “Five days before opening, Nathan Smith walked in to rehearse as the Professor. I remember thinking the first time he had to kiss me in rehearsal that I wasn’t supposed to like that so much.”
“We eventually started dating and when he proposed two years later, he brought a copy of ‘Little Women,’” Smith continued. “He read aloud to me the chapter in which Professor Bhaer proposes to Jo, and then he asked me to marry him.”
When “Little Women” was restaged in 2010, Jana and Nathan, now married, again had the opportunity to perform opposite each other as they were cast in the roles of Meg March and John Brooke.
“I remember thinking during the last performance in 2010, that I would never again be a March sister.” Smith recalled. “I was 26, married, and we had a 6-month-old daughter. I would be too old to be a sister the next time the show came around, but not old enough to play Marmee. I was so sad to think that I might not be able to be a part of it.”
In 2019, the production was announced as part of the 26th season, scheduled to run in late Spring 2020. By this time, Jana had become an accomplished director for LifeHouse Theater.
“We were eager to bring back ‘Little Women’ after such an extended break,” commented LifeHouse founder and president Wayne Scott. “Jana is certainly one of our most talented directors and we were looking forward to putting the show in her hands.”
Auditions were held and the show was cast, and just as rehearsals began, the pandemic hit, and LifeHouse Theater was forced to temporarily suspend operations. During this time, Jana led the cast in virtual rehearsals. The remaining shows in LifeHouse Theater’s 26th season were canceled; however, “Little Women” was rescheduled into the 27th season, one year after it was originally scheduled.
“I was worried about it being canceled completely, but I was honestly relieved that it was postponed last summer.” Smith said. “One of the beautiful things about live theater is the friendships that are formed, and that would have been hard to do under those conditions. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to try again this year, with the chance to make great friends and sweet memories.”
Rehearsals were able to resume, and “Little Women” became the production that reopened the doors to LifeHouse Theater.
“Having the opportunity to direct has been such a rewarding opportunity to share how special this story is with the cast, and to truly be a part of it again.” Smith said. “I would love to direct for as long as LifeHouse will have me. As to performing in it again, I’ve learned to never say never.”
“‘Little Women’ will forever be the biggest highlight of my time with LifeHouse, because it brought me to the theater and, eventually, to my husband,” Smith continued. “Over the years I have had the chance to share the stage and perform this production with my dad, my sister, my husband and now my daughter. Each run had its own special memories, which grew to make the story even more special.”
“Little Women,” sponsored by Family Tree Realty, performs weekends through May 9.
LifeHouse Theater’s 27th season continues with “Peter Pan” May 22 – June 27, followed by “Moses” July 10 – Aug. 15, “Snow White” Aug. 28 – Sept. 26, “Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles” Oct. 9 – 24, and “Noah” Nov. 6 – 21. Money-saving season passes are now on sale at the LifeHouse Theater Box Office. Show times, prices and more information including safety measures, can be found at lifehousetheater.com or by calling (909) 335-3037.
The theater is at 1135 N. Church St. in Redlands, next to the Redlands Christian School. Free parking is available in back of the theater.