BWW Review: A.D. Players' LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL Is the Theatrical Equivalent to Curling Up With a Good Book
The titular "little women" of Louisa May Alcott's English class standard are the four March sisters - Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy. Together with their mother Marmee, and anchored by the spirited Jo, the girls attempt to reconcile societal expectations with their own dreams and desires as they approach womanhood during the last years of the Civil War. And LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL, based on Alcott's semi-autobiographical novel, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, music by Jason Howland and book by Allan Knee, is currently playing on the A.D. Players' Grace Theater stage.
LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL is quite the curiosity -- a musical that isn't particularly enhanced or defined by its music. But though the music may be mostly forgettable, the voices in the A.D. Players' production are not. And neither are the performances. It is the cast that ultimately elevates this admittedly simplistic but feel-good show to one of the must-sees of the summer -- and it begins and ends with Shanae'a Moore.
Moore plays Jo March, the independent, pants-wearing writer of the family. As Jo, Moore leaps across the stage, waves her arms, and smiles big. She's a fixer, a make-things-better, figure-it-out-herself kind of person, and Moore plays it beautifully -- just as well as she plays Jo's moments of unease, the times when things are not in her control. And a special mention to Moore, who was seemingly unphased when her mic went out toward the end of the first act. She carried on like a trooper, her voice still soaring all the way to the back of the room.
The show truly shines when all four "little women" are on stage together - Moore's spirited exuberance, Connor Lyon's quiet sweetness, Haley Landers' childish pout, and Amanda Parker's refined romanticism are an absolutely enchanting blend. They complement each other well. As Marmee, Shondra Marie exudes maternal warmth and, to borrow a phrase from Brienne when she pledged herself to Catelyn Stark, "a woman's kind of courage," a quiet strength underscored and made all the more impressive by the vulnerability she shows in her lovely solo "Here Alone."
Ric Hodgin plays gruff neighbor Mr. Laurence with an intimidating and exasperated air, but even he is not immune to the girls' charm. Hodgin joins Lyon for a delightful, toe-tapping duet in "Off to Massachusetts," an unexpectedly catchy little ditty. And as Mr. Laurence's nephew Laurie, Braden Hunt noticeably struggled vocally, but his goofy grin and general likability was an overall welcome presence on stage.
And a high point of the show is the moment we reach the conclusion of Jo's rewritten blood and guts story in "The Weekly Volcano Press." Almost the entire cast plays a part, with both the March and Laurence family members taking on fun dual roles.
Both set and costumes combined to do a great job evoking Civil War-era Concord, Massachusetts. And the set was also quite practical; scene changes were smooth as the story moved from the March family attic to the living room or even a dark, shadowy part of a faraway forest. Especially well-placed was the corner nook that came to represent New York, both aside and emphasizing the primary narrative.
The A.D. Players production of LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL makes for an incredibly enjoyable night at the theatre. But I will warn that it was a bit of a long night. Before the show, we were warned that the first act runs about an hour and 20 minutes, but we were promised that it wouldn't feel that long. It didn't, but the same could not be said of the second act. Another hour, after a 30 minute intermission, tested a bit of my patience. Still, I recommend you go. LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL is one that will leave you feeling good on the inside -- there are no real villains and it's not really a spoiler to say that, despite the requisite adversity, it pretty much works out in the end. So go and appreciate the good humor, the family values, and all the hard work of a very talented cast and crew.