Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's Challenges

LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, is based on the beloved 1869 classic novel by Louisa May Alcott.Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's Challenges It's a song-filled adaptation of the touching tale of young love, achieving dreams, and the power of family to overcome even the most difficult of life's challenges. Now being presented at Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixson Theatre directed with historical flair by Anne Gesling, with music direction by Daniel Koh, choreography by Krystal Combs, and produced by Meredith Wright, the talented cast features, in alphabetical order, Amy Coles, Zoë D'Andrea, Larry Gesling, Amanda Greig, Daniel Koh, Janet Krajeski, Aric Martin, Alicia Reynolds-Luoma, Christopher Tiernan II, and Raymond Zachary.

Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's ChallengesNo doubt almost every young woman read the novel at some point during their lives, devouring the tale of the March sisters adventures (budding author Jo, practical Meg, sweet Beth, and romantic Amy) who are coming of age during the Civil War under the care of their doting mother, whom they call Marmee, while their father is away fighting for the North. They gather together to read his too infrequent letters, each warmly cuddling together around their beloved mother like a safe cocoon in a world being torn apart by violence around them.

Director Anne Gesling has also read the book dozens of times since she was just eight years old and always finds inspiration. She observed, "Jo strikes the quintessential balance between feminist and homebody in a way that so many women today are unable to do. Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's ChallengesShe fights for what she wants and needs in her life, yet she never loses sight of the importance of family and home. You root for Jo's ambition, cry for her losses, get angry at the injustice of the 'men's world,' and cheer when she succeeds. The themes of love, family, friendship, loss, ambition, and drive do not age - they resonate today," Gesling said. "Jo is a character every woman can identify with, that men can respect and admire, and that girls can aspire to become."

To that end, she cast the perfect young woman to take on this challenging role: Alicia Reynolds-Luoma who considers Jo her dream role, not only because of the timeless story and gorgeous music, but because she personally relates to the character, especially Jo's ambition and overwhelming drive to succeed. "I am also one of four siblings," Alicia explains. "I was a late-bloomer, headstrong, and always writing. Jo March inspires me and I feel so humbled to finally have the chance to play one of the most powerful literary icons for women, especially in this crucial time in history."

Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's ChallengesAlicia commands the stage during each of Jo's songs with her incredibly emotional, heartfelt renditions, amazing vocal talent, and engaging stage presence. When paired with Aric Martin as Professor Bhaer, an equally socially-inept boarder in the house where Jo lives while attempting to succeed as a writer in New York, the two actors perfectly complement each other as they attempt to fight the chemistry brewing between them.

The March family is represented by Amanda Greig, who lends her lovely voice and elegant presence to Meg, Zoë D'Andrea adds much sweet innocence to the role of Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's ChallengesBeth, the piano-playing sister who the family rallies around when she contracts Scarlet Fever, with the overly exuberant Amy Coles as Amy, a romantic idealist who thinks more of her own needs than those of her sisters. But once Amy returns from her travels through Europe, Coles shines in the role as a young and newly sophisticated girl on the verge of womanhood. Their mother Marmee is lovingly portrayed by Janet Krajesski as the type of woman we all wish had raised us with such understanding and unconditional love.

Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's ChallengesRounding out the March family is their moral compass Aunt March, portrayed in this production by the cross-dressing and overly flamboyant Raymond Zachary who never lets you forget he is a man playing the over-the-top character in drag. And while he was able to generate laughs each time he took the stage, his portrayal distracted from the more serious elements of the family's story. Then again, he did add in a lot of comic relief at times when it was most needed.

This is also true for the times Jo reads her stories aloud while the rest of the cast appears dressed to the hilt as her romance-novel characters, Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's Challengescomically acting out the story which of course generated many rejection letters for Jo. But the scenes are wonderfully choreographed by Krystal Combs and extremely entertaining to watch with the entire cast displaying the type of enthusiasm needed to let the audience see exactly how they really feel about the characters they are portraying. And as costumed by Anne Gesling with wigs designed by Jon Sparks, the entire cast made history come alive from moment to moment.

With their father being away, the March women are looked after by their kind-hearted Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's Challengesbut often argumentative neighbor Mr. Laurence (Larry Gesling, who also is the production's stage manager), his grandson Laurie (Christopher P. Tiernan II who shines in the role, especially when being a bit too gangly, or overly heroic as swashbuckling Rodrigo in Jo's stories), and Daniel Koh as his tutor John Brooke who romances and weds Meg.

LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL, based on the book by Louisa May Alcott, with Book by Allan Knee, Music by Jason Howland, Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, is directed by Anne Gesling with Musical Direction by Daniel Koh, Choreography by Krystal Combs, and produced by Meredith Wright for the Morgan-Wixson Theatre through April 14, 2018 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. One more audience talk-back will be held immediately following the performance on Easter Sunday, April 1.

Tickets Review: LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL Celebrates the Power of Family to Overcome Life's Challengesare $28, with students and seniors at $23. Reserved seats available at www.morgan-wixson.org or by phone at 310-828-7519 or by email at mwtboxoffice@gmail.com. The Morgan-Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica 90405. Please note that while the show is great for families, some of the events might be too intense or upsetting for younger children and is recommended for ages ten and up.

Photos by JDC Photography

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