The Ballad of Little Jo

Full-Length Musical, Drama  /  3w, 2m

Music by Mike Reid
Lyrics by Sarah Schlesinger
Book by Sarah Schlesinger, Mike Reid and John Dias

Based on the film The Ballad of Little Jo by Maggie Greenwald

A spirited young woman from late 19th century Boston makes a new life in an Idaho mining town disguised as a man called Jo.

  • Cast Size
    Cast Size
    3w, 2m
  • Duration
    More than 120 minutes (2 hours)
  • SubGenre
    Adaptations (Stage & Screen)
  • Audience
    Target Audience
The Ballad of Little Jo



Set in the late 19th century, The Ballad of Little Jo is based on an admired independent film and inspired by the remarkable real-life frontier story of Josephine Monaghan.

Josephine, a young society woman living in Boston, bears a child out of wedlock. In search of a new life and an income to support herself and her baby, she leaves her newborn son in the care of her sister and travels out West alone. For nearly 20 years, she makes her home in a tough Idaho mining town disguised as a man called "Jo."

The stunning score features a fantastically contrasting blend of rousing chorales and soaring ballads as it tells the sweeping tale of manifest destiny and love, loss and acceptance.


The Ballad of Little Jo has received multiple acclaimed productions. Steppenwolf Theatre Company produced The Ballad of Little Jo in 2000 as its first musical and it was subsequently mounted in 2003 at London's Bridewell Theatre. In summer 2017, The Ballad of Little Jo played Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ, starring Teal Wicks (Wicked, Finding Neverland), Eric William Morris (Be More Chill, Mamma Mia!), Jane Bruce (Elf, The Theory of Relativity), and Daniel K. Isaac (According to My Mother, Billions). A cast album was released in November 2017.

Act I

In a dreamlike prologue, Jo and the company sing a hymn ("Hand in the River").

Decades earlier, in Boston, 1871: after giving birth to a child out of wedlock, nineteen-year-old Josephine Monaghan heads west on her own to find a way to support herself and her infant son. On the train, she encounters a group of fellow travelers who are searching for their piece of the American dream by joining the silver rush ("Train to San Francisco"). Put off the train in rural Idaho by a disgruntled conductor, Josephine is initially helped by a kindly tinker and is optimistic ("Life"). That night, she is kidnapped and violently attacked by two itinerant soldiers. In desperation, she discards all traces of femininity as a way of protecting herself in the harsh landscape, donning men’s clothing and deliberately disfiguring her face ("Everything That Touched Her").

Passing herself off as a man, Jo makes her way to the rough mining town of Silver City ("Far From Home"). She befriends a young couple, Sara Stewart and Jordan Ellis. Sara takes pity on Jo and sells her an unused plot of land, coercing Jordan into helping Jo learn how to mine silver ("Muscle and Sweat"). Jordan wants to marry Sara, but she demurs ("Whatcha Gonna Do?"). Jordan, Jo, and the miners work the harsh soil and eventually make a strike ("Hi-Lo-Hi"). Sara struggles with her newfound feelings for Jo, who in turn is deeply attracted to Jordan ("There Is This Man"). Jordan comes to regard Jo as his best (male) friend. The town prepares for the coming storm and the cessation of work ("To Winter"). After a large mining company moves into the area, Jo sells her claim and uses the money she has acquired to return East for her son. Sara and Jordan are sorry to see her go ("After You"). Discovering that her family in Boston has adopted her son ("Everything That Touched Her" Reprise) Jo returns to Silver City and her male identity, just as Jordan and Sara are being married ("A New Beginning").

Act II

Eighteen years later, the rough mining camps have given way to a civilized town, and its citizens celebrate Idaho’s statehood ("Independence!"). Jo has opened a General Store with Jordan, never revealing her longing for him. Sara still harbors feelings for Jo and grows increasingly distant from Jordan. Living alone in a remote cabin, Jo has become a prisoner of bitterness. Unrest has begun to grip the town as less and less silver is being mined. They fear that the mining company will hire Chinese laborers who work for half-pay, and then eventually shut the mines down. A Chinese man, Tin Man Wong, appears at the edge of the crowd and is attacked. Jordan and Sara protect the stranger by taking him to recover at Jo's cabin, over her objections. At the same time, Jo learns that her adult son, Lawrence, has discovered her existence and is heading for Idaho to find her ("Life" Reprise). The presence of Tin Man, who continues to recover, and the letters from her son begin to reveal a vulnerability Jo has long hidden from view. Jordan attempts to rekindle his marriage to Sara ("When You Love Someone"), but she remains conflicted ("Troubled Heart").

When the mine shuts down, the town turns Tin Man into a scapegoat ("Hi-Lo-Hi" Reprise). He tells Jo that his initial reason for coming to Silver City was to punish Jordan, who was inadvertently responsible for the death of Tin Man's family years ago, but now he realises that revenge is no longer worth it ("Listen to the Rain"). During an argument about Jo's refusal to send Tin Man away, Sara admits to Jordan why she married him ("When You Love Someone" Reprise). Tin Man sees through Jo’s disguise, and they reach out to each other, ending Jo's long denial of her true self ("Unbuttoning the Buttons"). Jo's desire to protect Tin Man becomes more important to her than hiding the truth.

As the town’s hostility rises to fever pitch, Sara discovers a letter from Jo’s son that contains a picture of her as a young woman. Realizing that Jo has deceived her for 18 years, Sara shows Jordan the picture and it ends up in the hands of the mob. Learning that Jo, like the mining company, has lied to them, the mob mindlessly heads for her cabin with torches, now looking for both Jo and Tin Man. Jo sends Tin Man to safety, assuring him that she will follow. When Sara arrives to tell Jo the mob knows her identity, Jo sends Sara home and faces the mob dressed as a woman ("Finale - Part 1"). A torch is thrown, and she is engulfed in flames ("Finale - Part 2"). Days later, Jo's son arrives in time for her funeral, and the townsfolk, shattered by the collapse of their silver dreams and the consequences of their actions, prepare to move on again ("Finale – Part 3").

(3 female; 2 male)

Josephine Monaghan/Jo Monaghan
Sara Stewart Ellis
Caroline Williams

Jordan Ellis
Tin Man Wong

Ensemble (8 - Can Double/Triple Up)

Percy Corcoran
Walter Travers
Tommy Kelly
Lawrence Cavanaugh
Thomas Harrison
Ethan McClellan
Horner Burns
Ernie Stratton
Kate Monaghan
Jeannie Kelly
Lee Gibbs
Daniel Leary
Marian Cummings
Cora Reilly

The Two River Theater production doubled/tripled up the ensemble on the following tracks:

Conductor/Percy Corcoran/Walter Travers
Tommy Kelly/Lawrence Cavanaugh
Thomas Harrison/Ethan McClellan
Horner Burns/Ernie Stratton
Kate Monaghan/Jeannie Kelly
Lee Gibbs/Daniel Leary
Marian Cummings/Cora Reilly

The Two River production doubled/tripled up the ensemble on the following tracks:

Conductor/Percy Corcoran/Walter Travers

Tommy Kelly/Lawrence Cavanaugh

Thomas Harrison/Ethan McClellan

Horner Burns/Ernie Stratton

Kate Monaghan/Jeannie Kelly

Lee Gibbs/Daniel Leary

Marian Cummings/Cora Reilly

  • Time Period Wild West, 19th Century
  • Setting Boston and an Idaho mining town. Late 19th century.
  • Features Period Costumes
  • Additional Features Not Applicable
  • Duration More than 120 minutes (2 hours)


“The best piece of musical storytelling I have seen in a decade.” – The New Yorker

“Unmitigated brilliance. It is the best new musical I have seen in years.” – The Daily Telegraph

“Backed by a seven-piece on-stage orchestra, Reid and Schlesinger’s songs are full of the high-flown gusto of the American West, which the cast of twelve regularly belts with full voice.” – The Star-Ledger

“The score... takes in a broad frontier swath of emotional territory, from Josephine/Jo’s heart-wrenching solo spots (‘Everything That Touched Her’) to Jordan’s winningly wooing ‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’ and the hauntingly melancholy bit of Americana that is Sara’s spotlight number, ‘Troubled Heart.’” – Asbury Park Press


  • Ballad of Little Jo - Preview Trailer youtube thumbnail

    Ballad of Little Jo - Preview Trailer

  • TEDx Asbury Park - Ballad of Little Jo youtube thumbnail

    TEDx Asbury Park - Ballad of Little Jo


Music Samples

Act I

1. "Hand in the River" - Jo, Company
2. "Train to San Francisco" - Company
3. "Life!" - Josephine
4. "Everything That Touched Her" - Josephine
5. "Far From Home" - Company
6. "Muscle and Sweat" - Jordan, Jo
7. "Watcha Gonna Do?" - Jordan, Sara
8. "Hi-Lo-Hi" - Company, Jordan, Jo
9. "There Is This Man" - Sara, Jo
10. "To Winter" - Company
11. "After You" - Sara, Jordan
12. "Everything That Touched Her" (Reprise) - Jo
13. "A New Beginning" - Company, Jo

Act II

14. "Independence!" - Company
15. "Life!" (Reprise) - Jo
16. "When You Love Someone" - Jordan
17. "Troubled Heart" - Sara
18. "Hi-Lo-Hi" (Reprise) - Miners
19. "Listen to the Rain" - Tin Man
20. "When You Love Someone" (Reprise) - Sara, Jordan
21. "Unbuttoning the Buttons" - Jo
22. Finale (Part 1) - Sara, Jordan, Jo
23. Finale (Part 2) - Company
24. Finale (Part 3) - Jordan, Sara, Lawrence, Jo, Company

Full Orchestration

Reed (Flute, Pennywhistles, Clarinet, Piccolo, Bass Clarinet)
Onstage Violin

Mark Tree
Bass Drum
Gran Cassa
Anvil Strike
Crash Cymbal
Temple Blocks

  • Musical Style Folk, Contemporary Broadway
  • Dance Requirements Moderate
  • Vocal DemandsModerate
  • Orchestra Size Medium
  • Chorus Size Medium

Licensing & Materials

  • Licensing fees and rental materials quoted upon application.

Music Rentals

Concord offers a full suite of resources to help you put on the show of a lifetime!
16 Libretto-Vocal
1 Piano-Conductor
1 Reed
1 Percussion
1 Violin
1 Onstage Violin
1 Cello
1 Bass
7 Libretto-Vocal
1 Piano-Conductor


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Mike Reid


Sarah Schlesinger


John Dias


Maggie Greenwald

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