Man grants daughter's gap year wish, funds $20,000 production of Little Women musical

Julia Cerisano will play the lead role, Jo March, while her father leads the direction and production of the musical. (Submitted by Eric Cerisano - image credit)
Julia Cerisano will play the lead role, Jo March, while her father leads the direction and production of the musical. (Submitted by Eric Cerisano - image credit)

When Mark Cerisano's 18-year-old daughter Julia said she wanted to put on a musical, he set out to make it happen — even if it ends up costing him thousands of dollars.

Julia Cerisano is on a gap year following her graduation from Three Oaks Senior High School in 2022, where she participated in high school productions including Heathers.

Her father said he couldn't say no to her request to put on a production, given his background in music. He has done everything from teaching music to playing trumpet on cruise ships to directing shows to starting a piano-tuning business.

The $20,000 production, debuting this month, is based on Louisa May Alcott's classic story Little Women, about four sisters growing up in the U.S. during the Civil War.

Julia will play a lead role of Jo March.

Her father formed a new non-profit theatre group for the show called 8th Avenue Players, and is hoping to break even from box office sales.

"If we don't break even, then I'll have to pay for it," he said.

Cerisano also roped in his son to help with the production as one of many volunteers.

What started as a graduating gift to his daughter has turned into an emotional experience of community effort and family bonding.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

"I'm just looking at her and thinking, you know, 'I can't believe she's my daughter, she's so talented,'" he said. "And I feel that way for a lot of the actors.

"I'll just be stopping and looking at them and they're, like, growing so much."

'The less work it is and the more fun it is'

Cerisano said work on the production began last fall, after they secured the musical rights from Music Theatre International and booked the venue for the show — the 290-seat Scott MacAulay Performing Arts Centre in Summerside.

Submitted by Eric Cerisano
Submitted by Eric Cerisano

Before his current business as a piano tuner on P.E.I., which he's been doing for 12 years, Cerisano's love of music exposed him to the work involved in assembling music productions.

Now, he leads the way as the musical's producer, director and musical director. He's even building the sets for the show.

"I would love to do just one job," he said. "There's a lot of people that are helping, but nobody's actually taking on the responsibility of designing and building, like getting all the wood."

Cerisano said he didn't want the audience to experience the show without live music, so he put together a live orchestra that include some musicians from the P.E.I. Symphony Orchestra.

He also thanks Three Oaks Senior High School music teacher Krista Bryson for lending percussion instruments for the production.

"We've only had one rehearsal with the orchestra and it's just sounded great," he said.

"The more people that help out, the less work it is and the more fun it is."

'Watching the magic'

As opening night approaches, Cerisano said the possibility of things going wrong is what live performance is all about.

"A lot of times when things go wrong, the audience has no idea, but we do. And it's kind of, like, a roller coaster ride, you know?" he said.

"You just never know what's going to happen — and when it happens, [it's] watching the magic."

Little Women: The Broadway Musical will run Feb. 23-25 at the Scott MacAulay Performing Arts Centre at the College of Piping in Summerside.