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BWW Reviews: LITTLE WOMEN, Old Rep Theatre Birmingham, April 30 2015

Telling the story of the March sisters growing up in Civil War America, Little Women has never really had the recognition it deserves as a musical. It only lasted for four months on Broadway and has had just a few short stints elsewhere. Based on Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical novel, it is a very character-driven piece adapted for the stage by Allan Knee with music and lyrics by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein respectively. BOA Musical Theatre have yet again recreated a wonderful production.

The set consists of a two-tier steeldeck structure lining the wings and upstage area, dressed artistically with dustsheets and book pages. Because of this set-up, there was little masking of the backstage areas and occasionally people could be seen but this was a minor distraction. Alex Johnson's lighting is excellent. It is a hard piece to light but he definitely had fun during 'The Weekly Volcano Press' and the other fictional excerpts from Jo's writing. There were literally only a couple of states that were a touch too acidic such as during 'More Than I Am' and 'Some Things Are Meant To Be' but as a whole, a solid design to be proud of. Stephen Whitson's direction is first-class and he definitely uses both levels to his advantage; the character choices are well moulded and you can tell Whitson has been paramount in this. Amy Ferguson's choreography alongside this is perfect for the piece; understated and not overdone which is exactly right. She has also found nuances in the music for certain moments which is real attention to detail. Michelle King leads the orchestra and has clearly done masses of work on the vocals. It is definitely a tricky piece musically and the time spent has paid off dividends.

The central character of the show is Jo, played by Elise Jones. Jo is bolshie, terribly unladylike and doesn't conform the way society wants her to. She is very headstrong and a true leader. Initially I thought Jones was trying a little too hard but as the piece progressed, she settled in to the role and appeared very confident as Jo. Her rendition of 'Astonishing' is superb and she sings beautifully during 'Some Things Are Meant To Be' with Louise Francis as Beth with sound harmonies. The other sisters, Meg and Amy, played by Mia Richards and Charlotte King, showed equal talent and as a quartet are very tight. A particularly beautiful moment is during 'More Than I Am' between Richards and Matthew Nicholas as Mr Brooke. Alex Cardall shone as Laurie with oodles of energy and this came across greatly in 'Take A Chance On Me'. Marmee played by Chelyr Hume gives a lovely emotion fuelled performance of 'Here Alone' and Bradley Walwyn is an excellent Professor Bhaer.

All in all, one of the strongest productions I have seen from BOA Musical Theatre. So much so, I'd go again if I could!

Little Women plays at the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 2nd May 2015.

Photo Credit: James Garside

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