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National Tour Review: Little Women in Ft. Lauderdale

It seems quite obvious to make a Broadway musical of Louisa May Alcott's classic, LITTLE WOMEN. Classic novels have always been fertile ground for adaptation to film, stage and musical theater. There have certainly been hits like OLIVER and LES MISERABLES, and misses like SCARLETT (at times it was called Gone with the Wind, the Musical) and A DOLL'S LIFE.

Maureen McGovern in LITTLE WOMEN, the Broadway Musical (as it is billed) falls somewhere in between hit and miss. Unfortunately, for the ladies who comprise the misses and the Mrs. of this show, LITTLE WOMEN is indeed, mostly a miss.

The story of the March family, their yearnings, needs, survival, losses and triumphs, has been read by generations or at least it has been assigned reading in many schools for decades and decades. The story centers on Jo, the oldest sister who wants to be a writer (think of any young strong willed character who is going to overcome adversity and lead a life of happiness, perhaps even one that is "Astonishing," as Jo sings.) Think of Molly Brown, or perhaps (the late blooming) Miss Celie in THE COLOR PURPLE, Auntie Mame, or even the real life Katharine Hepburn (Jo in the celebrated film of LITTLE WOMEN.) You know the character. The feisty, zest for life heroine. In this show, Jo, even sings a LITTLE WOMEN version of MAME's "We Need a Little Christmas."

Is it a "guy" thing? Will females enjoy LITTLE WOMEN more than males? I suspect not. Though in some cases, perhaps so. There are fans for most any show. Is it the time setting, perhaps the things that happen or don't happen to the characters? Or is it simply the source material by Louisa May Alcott or the book adaptation by Allan Knee that makes the story of the March family down right boring? The show just doesn't work.

There are a few pleasant moments in the score by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein. Unfortunately, the score is "pedestrian" at best, and embarrassing at worst. The music and lyrics never really elevate the lack of excitement on stage. And I would just remind Howland and Dickstein that "old fashioned" need not be bland nor need it be non progressive. Choreographer Michael Lichtefeld gets a couple of chances to add some life to the proceedings. His work is sprightly and fine. Sadly, Mr. Lichtefeld is choreographing characters who have simply not captured our interest.

Too often the show's creative team seems to be following a text book of how to put together a musical. Insert cute duet here, place "I've got the spirit" song in this spot, now bring in the touching ballad and end act one with a spunky, belty solo from the show's heroine. Their blue print for this show seems to be from an era past or a period of time that never existed. For in an era past, LITTLE WOMEN, would still not be a "hit." It just doesn't work.

The design team have all done uniformly fine work. There is charm, creativity and at times some beauty in the sets from Derek McLane, the costumes from Catherine Zuber and in Kenneth Posner's lighting. Peter Hylenski had a problem or two with his sound design last night, but at least the sound problem on stage provided some interest for the audience.

There is an ensemble full of fine professionals in LITTLE WOMEN, doing their best to rise above the cobwebs of the material. Leading the cast is Susan Spencer as Jo. She has a wonderful voice, very nice comic timing and is deserving of a better showcase for her talents.

Billed above the title is former pop star Maureen McGovern who plays a supporting role as the mother, Marmee. Ms. McGovern deserves her above the title billing. Not just for her decades of theater work, but because she gives LITTLE WOMEN its loveliest moments. Her singing is gorgeous and captivating. Her Marmee is warm, loving, and caring. Ms. McGovern emanates this from somewhere deep inside her. You do not take your eyes off her when she is on stage. She brings a grace and nobility to the character and the piece, that far exceeds the contributions of this show's creative team.

Perhaps LITTLE WOMEN would be better were Ms. McGovern given more to do. Then again, perhaps not. Sadly, in this musical, the March family does a lot more plodding than marching.

LITTLE WOMEN's last performance at Fort Lauderdale's Broward Center for the Performing Arts is March 26.



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From This Author Beau Higgins

Currently spending his time between New York and Florida, Beau was born to a theatrical family in Brooklyn. He studied drama at the Lee Strasberg (read more...)