(Little Women Website)
(Little Women, the book)
Starring Sutton Foster and Maureen McGovern
A Jujamcyn Theatre
254 West 52nd Street
Book by Allan Knee
Music by Jason Howland
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Janet Carroll, Danny Gurwin, John Hickok, Amy McAlexander,
Megan McGinnis, Jenny Powers, Robert Stattel, Jim Weitzer,
Julie Foldesi, Chris Gunn, Anne Kanengeiser,
Larissa Shukis, and Andrew Varela
Directed by Susan H. Schulman
Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld
Producers: Randall L. Wreghitt, Dani Davis, Ken Gentry,
Chase Mishkin, Jack Utsick, Ruben Brache, Lisa Vioni, Jana Robbins, Addiss Duke Associates, John & Danita Thomas, Thomas Keegan,
Scott Freiman, and Theatre Previews at Duke
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Music Director/Conductor: Andrew Wilder
Orchestrations: Kim Scharnberg
Vocal Arrangements: Lance Horne
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Technical Supervisor: Larry Morley and William J. Craven
Associate Director: Darcy Evans
Hair & Wig Design: Lazaro Arencibia
Production Supervisor: Beverly Randolph
Casting: Barry Moss, CSA, Bob Kale
Press: The Pete Sanders Group
Marketing: The Marketing Group
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 26, 2005 Matinee
Full disclosure: This writer grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, in the aura of Louisa May Alcott, Bronson Alcott, Thoreau, et al. I spent many a weekend at Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s Home, and I read Little Women. I was raised in awe of the transcendentalists and swam in Walden Pond. Little Women, the musical, is an excellent recreation of the mood and lifestyle and family relationships that I remember from wandering about Louisa May Alcott’s attic and countryside. In fact, Little Women, the musical, could have been the best new musical on Broadway this season.
Could have been, because the lyrics, by Mindi Dickstein, are far superior to the score, by Jason Howland, as his music seems to be repetitive and Broadway generic. Take a Chance on Me, sung by Laurie, More Than I Am, sung by John Brooke and Meg, Five Forever, sung by Jo and her sisters, and Days of Plenty, sung by Marmee, are all inventive, inspiring, and ingenious, but somehow the musicality lacks the same level of freshness, and you will probably not leave the Virginia Theatre humming a tune. However, you will leave the theatre with a warm feeling of a classy production about a classy family from Massachusetts.
The sets are true to Orchard House, the dark attic with eccentric, historical costumes, and the living room with fireplace and narrow stairway. The story unfolds with introductions to each of the five Alcott sisters: Jo (fiercely independent and intellectual), Amy (jealous and flirtatious), Beth (sweet and cooperative), and Meg (focused and domestic), as well as Marmee (their stable and strong mother, whose husband is off to the Civil War). Meg soon attaches herself to John Brooke, friend of Laurie, the very friendly neighbor, to whom budding novelist Jo attaches and then distances herself for fear of commitment and loss of self. Amy, with intent to outsmart her older and “luckier” sister, takes on Jo’s rejected suitor with daring and determination.
Little Women, the musical, includes ensemble songs and dances, and one of the more adorable is a piano piece, played by Beth, and accompanied by Laurie’s grandfather, Mr. Laurence, as we watch Mr. Laurence warm up with a delightful tune about Massachusetts (See full disclosure above. I love songs about Massachusetts). My favorite song in this performance is More than I Am, sung by Meg and John Brooke in their engagement scene. The lyrics are romantic and resonant. Another memorable song is Some Things are Meant To Be, sung by Jo and the ailing Beth on an exquisite scene of Cape Cod. In fact, I will not wait to offer kudos to Derek McLane for the classy, characteristic scenery throughout this powerful production, including Mrs. Kirk’s boarding house.
Professor Bhaer, Jo’s persistent suitor, lives in this NY boarding house, and he may be one of the weaker characters, early on, but holds his own in Act Two. An exceptional character, throughout, is Aunt March (Janet Carroll), a wealthy dowager, who loves to travel first class to Europe with a “deserving, well-behaved” niece. Ms. Carroll has pizzazz, personality, and presence, for an older, New England woman alone in the 1800’s. But, the characters who carry this show are Sutton Foster (of Thoroughly Modern Millie fame) and Maureen McGovern (who can croon with rich vocalization, like cream and cognac).
Ms. Foster is often frantic and hyper-kinetic, but Jo was a spirited and sprightly figure, to whom drama and literature and fantasy were the stuff of wild passion and constant pleasure. An early feminist, Jo wanted to be known for her brains and talent, not for her well fixed catches, among her savvy suitors. Jo had a heart of gold, and the scenes of her wheeling Beth in the wheelchair on the beach were emotionally riveting. Marmee could not have been better cast with any other than Maureen McGovern, who is just matronly enough and just revealing enough of her own longing for her far off husband and her own torment about her daughters’ fate, as well as that of her husband. She was a typical 1800’s self-sacrificing New England wife/mother/woman.
The only flaw of this production, as stated above, is Jason Howland’s repetitive and generic score, which one will NOT leave the theatre humming, not even a few bars. Kudos to Allan Knee for the brilliant book, to Mindi Dickstein for lovely lyrics, to Michael Lichtefeld for balance and flair in choreography, and to Susan H. Shulman for keeping this historical portrait poignant and poised. One character I would be eager to see again is Amy McAlexander, as Amy, the youngest, a sassy and savvy sister, who exudes infectious charm and charisma. Jenny Powers, as Meg, is elegant and engaging. Megan McGinnis, as Beth, is sophisticated and vulnerable. And, all lead characters, as a variety of “Operatic Tragedy” Players, are reminiscent of Commedia del Arte, such as that extra “play within a play” found in some ballets and operas.
I recommend Little Women, the musical, for theatre and literary buffs of all ages, especially if they’re from Massachusetts.
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik
Megan McGinnis, Sutton Foster, Jenny Powers, Amy McAlexander
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus