BWW Review: LITTLE WOMEN Charming Family Friendly Musical
LITTLE WOMEN is a musical with a book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and music by Jason Howland. Workshop productions were presented at Duke University in 2001 and 2004 and the Broadway production opened at the Virginia Theatre on January 23, 2005. Based on the classic 1869 Louisa May Alcott semi-autobiographical novel, LITTLE WOMEN focuses on the four March sisters: aspiring writer Jo (Lilly Lane Stafford), romantic Meg (Caroline Kinnamore), the easily hurt Amy (Maddie Dennison), and kind Beth (Emily McIntyre) as well as their beloved Marmee (Maddrey Blackwood.) The women are at the family home in Concord, Massachusetts while their father is away during the Civil War. The musical begins with Jo trying to sell her stories in New York but soon brings Jo back home. While the events and timing of things aren't exactly the same as in the novel; Allan Knee's script, for the most part, is expertly condensed Alcott retaining the spirit of the characters. Jason Howland's music is pleasant, if rather unmemorable, riffing musical theatre numbers out of period waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles; supported by Mindi Dickstein's rather unmemorable lyrics. The end result feels like a lesser known Rogers & Hammerstein musical. It's just good old fashioned squeaky clean family fun.
The score varies wildly in style between Basic Music Theory and lesser Sondheim and doesn't move the storytelling forward. Instead, it is a throwback to the days when the story stopped for the musical numbers. The best song is "Off to Massachusetts," which, more than any other number in the score, feels like these characters should be singing it. "I'd Be Delighted," is simply a recycling of any number of Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes; and, while a bouncy song about solidarity between the girls and Laurie, "Five Forever," is fun and catchy, you could transfer it into almost any show. The numbers are fun, but you won't walk out of the theatre with any of them stuck in your head.
Technically, the production is excellent. Melissa Maxwell's direction is fluid and visually lovely. Natasha Davison's choreography is lively and fun, Caitlin Graham's costumes are period perfect. Lyn Koenning, as musical director, gets some really soaring vocals from the cast. David Molina-Graza's set design is quite striking, especially the panels with large wallpaper single pattern designs that set mood beautifully and the furniture that floats on and off stage. Chian-Ann Lu has lit the whole show for maximum effect.
The performances are also uniformly good; however, some are standouts worth individual mention. Lilly Lane Stafford does a wonderful job with the character of Jo and has a powerful voice that really helps sell the big ballads in the score. Maddie Dennison is utterly charming as Amy with a real sense of comic timing. Eli Weinberg delivers a great Mr. Laurence, although he comes off rather startlingly sterner at the beginning than the character in Alcott's novel; however, this may be the fault of Mr. Knee's adaptation. Reagan Murdock delivers a wonderfully quirky performance as Professor Bhaer. As Laurie Laurence, Connor Barr delivers another solidly charming performance. I read from the program that after he graduates, Mr. Barr is heading to New York. Audiences should catch his work here while you can... someday you will have to pay a whole lot more and travel a whole lot further to catch this skillful musical comedy performer.
LITTLE WOMEN isn't an earth shaking new work, but it is a pleasant family entertainment that has a lot of charm. It is, perhaps, the first feminist musical for the whole family... and that's not a bad thing.
Running time: Two Hours and 40 minutes including intermission.
Performances: November 8-11, 13, 15-19 at 7:30 p.m. and November 13, 19-20 at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $15.00-$26.00 and are available at: http://texasperformingarts.org/events