BWW Review: LITTLE WOMEN at The Firehouse Theatre Inspires Dallas
Louisa May Alcott, author of the classic novel Little Women, grew up before the Civil War, in a time when actresses were seen as little more than "good-time girls." Flash forward to today, and in an ironic twist of fate Alcott's seminal work has been adapted numerous times for the stage. The women in Little Women The Musical, with music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and book by Allan Knee, are anything but the typical eye-candy characters of the 1860s. The musical stays true to the novel and portrays the intricate decisions and daily struggles of four sisters living in the mid-19th century. Though they are young, they are fully-fledged characters with complex lives - not little girls, but little women.
This production of Little Women at the Firehouse Theatre in Farmer's Branch has yet another gratifying feature. Not only do the actresses bring to life the rich female characters, but also a very capable female director and assistant director, Marilyn Setu and Elisa Danielle James respectively, helm the production. Setu wisely hints that the play might not be as antiquated as it seems in her Director's Note. "This story of empowered women and young people determined to astonish the world has lost none of its power or relevance," she writes. At times throughout the show I was subtly yet poignantly reminded of that fact, like when the main character, Jo March, waxes rhapsodic about what she would do if she were given the chance to go to college. It served as a stinging reminder that even in this day and age women's intelligence is undervalued.
As one might expect, the young women who play the four March sisters steal the show. Kaylee Killingsworth plays the eldest March sister, Meg, with an unaffected graceful charm (she also gracefully hits soaring high notes). Lauren Morrow's radiant smile and quiet self-assurance is perfect for Beth March, Jo's wise-beyond-her-years, younger, and favorite sister. Caitlin Jones is hilarious as the whiny and whimsical youngest March, Amy, and Chelsea Bridgman brings to life the main character, Jo, a frenetic and inspired writer whom Alcott based on herself. Bridgman's vocal talents especially are stunning; she makes notoriously difficult songs like "Astonishing" and "The Fire Within Me" seem effortless. Music Director Mark Mullino deserves special praise for helping the already breathtaking female voices in the show to blend beautifully.
The four sisters have believable chemistry not only with each other, but also with their various suitors. Trey Tolleson, who plays Professor Bhaer, suitor to Jo, has a remarkable voice, which pairs well with Bridgman's in the duet "Small Umbrella in the Rain." Dylan Owen plays Laurie Laurence, friend of the March family and eventually fiancé of Amy, as if he is a golden retriever stuck in a human's body, garnering chuckles and stealing hearts. Chapman Blake as John Brooke, suitor and later husband to Meg, proposes so romantically in "More Than I Am," that if you're as sappy as I am an audible sigh might actually escape your lips. If sappy isn't your thing, you'll appreciate Sarah Powell's crisp stoicism as Marmee, the strong but troubled mother of the March girls. Paul Niles and Andi Allen round out the ensemble as Mr. Laurence and Aunt March, meddlesome and grumpy pensioners with secret hearts of gold.
Firehouse Theatre itself is cozy. The space is permeated by the wafting smell of popcorn from the concessions stand, and blankets are available to keep you toasty in your seat. The stage is shallow, leaving only limited room for dancing, but Nicole Jamie Carrano's choreography still looks playful and off-the-cuff as the girls happily parade around their living room. The stage did look occasionally claustrophobic, however, as the women were forced to tromp up and down narrow stairs in hoop skirts. In a way, dresses barely fitting through doors is yet another testament to the extreme restrictions placed on women at the time in which the play is set.
This production is nuanced and timely. Setu refuses to beat you over the head with her message, preferring to let its parallels to modern life slyly creep in over the course of the show. I was allowed to figure it out for myself just as the March women slowly figure things out for themselves, and by the end I had a similar experience of triumphant certainty. As a young actress who is often pigeonholed into rather one-dimensional characters, I especially appreciated seeing talented young women playing characters that truly let their skills, and their minds, shine.
Little Women runs through May 6th at The Firehouse Theatre, 2535 Valley View Ln, Farmers Branch. See thefirehousetheatre.com for details.