Little Women National Tour Review
Something old, something new? Sure, Little Women has that. Borrowed and blue, that as well. It's a new show that's old-fashioned, with a score that's not all that original and bits of blue here and there, mainly represented in the period-lace that frames the brightly lit stage.
Little Women is not challenging, intellectually stimulating, or life-changing, and for the most part, it doesn't pretend to be any of these things. It is, however, very charming, cute, and a perfectly decent few hours in the theatre. This is the show you take the kids to after they've outgrown Annie.
National Touring Company, Little Women The Broadway Musical. © 2005 Joan Marcus.
It certainly helps that the national tour is perfectly cast.
I never saw the show on Broadway -- and had actually listened to only one or two songs from the cast recording before seeing the tour -- but Little Women definitely does not suffer from an absence of Sutton Foster.
Kate Fisher makes Jo March all her own, with the show resting stably on her shoulders. Considering she's played Cosette in Les Miz and Carlotta in the Yeston/Kopit Phantom, her voice is surprisingly thick and gutsy, and she handles the role with true charisma and poise. Fisher is simply a joy to watch.
Rounding out the rest of the March sisters are three talented young women who actually look like they could all be related. Renee Brna makes a gorgeous, romantic (and at times, goofy) Meg, and Gwen Hollander's bratty Amy is more than just a caricature of a jealous child. Of particular note is the demure Autumn Hurlbert as Beth. Her sensitive Act 2 duet with Fisher is probably the most touching scene in the entire show.
Stephen Patterson is an adorable, dorky Laurie, the neighbor who first pursues Jo and then marries Amy. There's a definite '80s feel to "Take a Chance on Me," Laurie's Act 1 solo, but Patterson sells it so well it's easy to ignore how much it doesn't fit in with the rest of the score. Patterson is also hysterically hammy when he doubles as Rodrigo, the swashbuckling hero in one of Jo's "blood and guts" stories.
As Laurie's tutor and Meg's future husband, Michael Minarik is charming in his awkward attempts to be romantic, and his voice blends beautifully with Brna's in their duet, "More than I Am." Minarik also doubles in one of Jo's elaborate tales, and it's obvious he's having a great time as the villainous Braxton.
Andrew Varela's uptight-yet-endearing Professor Bhaer is in fine voice as he transforms from bookish to hesitatingly romantic. "How I Am" might be tedious in the hands of someone less engaging, but Varela makes it a sweet, reflective gem.
And, finally, Maureen McGovern is a wonder as the nucleus of the March family. There's something very comforting about her presence and singing -- it's not just that it's still a powerhouse after all these years, but she isn't called The Stradivarius Voice for nothing.
It's easy, however, to see why this show wasn't a huge success on Broadway. I never read the book, so it's hard to tell if this is the fault of Louisa May Alcott or not, but the storytelling is uneven, and some transitions are confusing and awkward -- including, unfortunately, the first flashback, which occurs about six minutes into the show. And much of the score is a little too uninventive at times. A little Wildhorn here, a little Lerner and Lowe there, and one might expect Jo to don black, turn green, and start flying during her big solo, "Astonishing," which ends Act 1.
It's not that the music is bordering on plagiarism, but those who see a lot of theatre might end up missing some action as they pick their brains trying to figure out why what they just heard sounded so familiar.
Given its problems, Little Women is still enjoyable family fare. Take the kids. Plan an outing with friends. Go on a low-key date. Have a great time. This cast's energy and talent will make sure of that.
"Little Women" is currently at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City until Oct. 30. For more information, go to http://www.arttix.org.
(Performances reviewed were in Sacramento and San Jose.)