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BWW Reviews: Stunning Opening for Sustaining Sound Theatre Company

Little Women The Broadway Musical/book by Allan Knee/based on Louisa May Alcott's novel/music by Jason Howland & lyrics by Mindi Dickstein/directed by Kristin Towers-Rowles & Rebekah Hellerman/Sustaining Sound Theatre Company/through April 21 only!

I am a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott's story of the March sisters and both films of Little Women, the one from the early 30s starring Katharine Hepburn and Joan Bennett and then the 1949 revival starring June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Margaret O'Brien. I'm partial to the latter film, only because I love everyone in that cast, and it was in glorious technicolor. It also boasted Mary Astor as Marmee and Peter Lawford as Laurie. What is so appealing about the story is the genuine family loyalty/love that exists between mother, father (though not seen, you sense his gentle presence) and all siblings, a quality so rare in today's troubled, dysfunctional times. I saw the tour version of Little Women The Broadway Musical in 2006 with Maureen McGovern as Marmee and just loved it for its earnest attempt to preserve that traditional texture of love and fidelity in both book and music. Most critics hated the fact that Alcott's novel was reduced to a meagerly threaded plotline, but at the novel's length, it would be practically impossible to mount it in its entirety, without making the show 5+ hours. As is, it comes in barely under 3. It's a good show, take my word for it! If you are into truly expressed emotions and really good storytelling, you will surely love the new production of Sustaining Sound Theatre Co's Little Women The Broadway Musical, now onstage at Studio 52 in West Los Angeles through April 21. It has a dream cast and creative team, and its intimate look and staging perfectly evoke the aforementioned sense of family unity and warmth.

If you do not know the classic story, the father is away, serving as a chaplain in the Civil War (1863-67) and his four young daughters and Marmee (Gail Matthius) reside in Concord, Massachusetts trying to make their way in his absence. Jo (Rachel Geis) is the rambunctious tomboy who wants to be a writer, Meg (Kristin Towers-Rowles), the romantic, who wants only to marry and bear children, Amy (Carly Linehan) the showy yet insecure little brat who has difficulty finding her niche and Beth (Hannah Provisor; role shared with Brooke Johnson at certain performances), the passive little girl who lives simply to love them all. Meg meets and marries soldier John Brooke (Andrew Wade), neighbor Laurie Laurence (Arnold Livingston-Geis) has eyes for Jo, but ends up with an emotionally changed Amy, Beth contracts scarlet fever, becomes violently ill and eventually passes on, and Jo is left, but not without the pining attentions of Professor Bhaer (Jason Peter Kennedy), to forge ahead, independent and fiercely strong into the sunset. Aunt March (Cindy Bullock) is rich, has great aspirations for and wishes to groom Jo as a lady in upper class society, but Jo turns out to be a major disappointment to her. Jo is too much the tomboy to be a lady and too fiery a spirit to be categorized anywhere by anyone.

This cast is magnificent under Kristin Towers-Rowles and Rebekah Hellerman's fast-paced direction and taut staging. Three or four wooden platforms moved back and forth around the small stage serve as walls, doors and windows of the various Mass homes and the New York boarding house where Jo resides when leaving home, and the actors move the pieces and the props quickly and expediently in between scenes, without the tiniest lag in action. The pacing remains sharp and smooth throughout. All the performances are top-notch and everyone can sing. Little Women is a story show, without choreography, but, like opera, requires some fine voices. Rachel Geis is every inch a star as she comfortably essays the brash mannerisms and singular feminine wiles of Jo. Her "Astonishing" at the end of Act I, is simply that...astonishing, as is her total performance. Towers-Rowles lifts her lovely soprano voice and underplays to suit Meg's femininity, Linehan shows versatility with essaying her young sauciness and later almost regal transformation to womanhood, and Provisor as Beth is perfectly cast. She makes Beth the sweetest of young ladies. Matthius makes Marmee the ideal mother who will sacrifice all for her little women, and Bullock makes a deliciously stern Aunt March without changing her look or manner too drastically as most actresses are prone to do. They end up with a caricature; she does not. Livingston-Geis as Laurie is just right with his boyish charm and sings beautifully, as does Wade as John. Robert Towers makes Mr. Laurence tough yet tender and Jason Peter Kennedy as Professor Fritz Bhaer does well with his solitary character but needs to deliver his solo "How I Am" in Act II with more clear enunciation as some of the words are inaudible. Emily King Brown brings great comedic touches in defining the small role of the feisty Mrs. Kirk. The three musicians, who sit in plain view of the audience, are also to be lauded for their fine work: Jake Anthony at the piano, Tyler Smith on drums and Michelle Elliott on cello.

This production of Little Women The Broadway Musical is small, intimate with miles and miles of HEART ...and every inch a match for the original. It is indeed a stellar achievement for the newly formed Sustaining Sound Theatre Company. With a talented ensemble and directors, who are dedicated to bringing only the very best of musical theatre to LA, the play exceeds expectations with its strong emphasis on simply telling the story and singing the music.

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From This Author Don Grigware