(back) Olivia Manning, Reagan Robinson, (front) Colleen McGuirk, Collette Delaney Mattingly, & Maren Gosman. Photo: TheatreWorks of SO IN
Little Women, the Musical
Music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Book by Allan Knee. Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Emily Grimany & William Strauss
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020, by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
One of the most venerable classics in American literature, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has been adapted many times for other mediums, including the most recent, highly acclaimed film translation from director Greta Gerwig. This musical version premiered on Broadway in 2005.
To be honest, Allan Knee’s book seems thin, a Cliff Notes rendition of the story of the four March sisters that leaves the depth and subtlety of the story to the score. It works most of the time, but it still sells the story short.
But the music is quite good. Perhaps not a truly great score, but one that contains great moments that powerfully express character and situation, and this production features a cast fully capable of realizing those moments. Maren Gosman is a suitably idealistic Jo, wide-eyed and possessing keen intelligence, she is the emotional center but also the most essential connection to the audience. Gosman’s performance is crisp, emphatic and she sings with a clear, sonorous voice.
The other March sisters are as well served. Colleen McGuirk is a graceful and steadfast Meg, the oldest and first to marry and start a family with John Brooke (Trent Everett Byers). Reagan Robinson is Amy, masking her selfishness with gamine charm, and Olivia Manning is Beth, the youngest and most loyal sister. Manning is quite winning, even overcoming a wig that seems a bit much.
As Marmee, their mother, Colette Delaney Mattingly exhibits the easy skill and authority befitting her experience and her powerful singing is supple and expressive. Cindy Smith is sour, pointed delight as Aunt March.
As for the men, Jackson Mullins is light and engaging as Laurie, an appealing presence even if he misses the deeper conflict within the character – or is it the book? Billy Bass is a fine Professor Bhaer, the other, older man after Jo’s heart, Richard Ryan is a solid and acerbic Mr. Laurence, and Trent Everett Byers is alert to the fun of playing Mr.Brooke.
Vocally, this is a consistently strong ensemble, but Gosman’s “Astonishing” was a highlight, as was Mattingly’s “Days of Plenty”, both insightful explorations of the heart of the characters and the themes of Alcott’s story. Whatever the limitations of this version, these are powerful musical performances.
Once again, Chris Bundy’s design work is exemplary, a textbook study of the use of limited space, and Emily Grimany’s choreography matches him in being compact yet alive with energy. Grimany directs in collaboration with William Strauss, and the production is sure and steady.
Much is made of Little Women’s status as feminist literature, and the focus of young women coming of age in Civil War America is still unique, partly because it keeps itself a very safe distance from all of the violence and tragedy of that historical conflict, but by today’s Bechdel Test standards, the fact that all of these women’s lives depend upon their relationship with a man might seem problematic. However, when viewed in the context of the very male-dominated American literature of 150 years ago, Alcott’s story still stands as a milestone.
Little Women, the Musical
March 11-14, March 18-21 @ 7:30
March 15 & 22 @ 2:00
TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.
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