I love Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” Perhaps it’s because I never lived with sisters, but as a young girl I was fascinated with the dynamics of this family, their different personalities, borrowing each others possessions, their frustration and love for each other.
I am not, however, a big fan of classic literature being turned into musicals, especially when a new one seems to pop up every other day. In my home, “. . .The Musical,” is a term used with derision and mockery.
So, with mixed feelings, I attended the Springville Playhouse production of Little Women: The Musical.
For no good reason whatsoever, I have never been to a Springville Playhouse production. Our schedules just haven’t meshed. But I have watched them closely because of an acquaintance with a cast member, or a desire to audition for a show. I was saddened to learn that their home beneath the old library was recently demolished, and they were in temporary digs at Merit Academy in Springville. The school is lovely, but the accommodations meant the show was set on a standard stage in the gym, and the audience was set on plastic folding chairs. I can’t help but wonder what happened in Springville City Council meetings that brought about a beautiful new library building without a small theatre space for community use. It isArtCityafter all, and the Springville Playhouse is, according to their website, the longest continuously-running community theater group in Utah, starting in 1947. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances.
So, now that I’ve vented about unnecessary musicals and homeless performing arts groups, I have to say, this show was pretty great. It’s the original Broadway version with book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and music by Jason Howland. The songs are more modern than I expected and had a tone very similar to Wicked. At one point, I even thought I heard some Les Mis melodies. And the actors were pretty spot on. In fact, the singing abilities of this cast, and the music direction (by Jay Knight,) were remarkable. I don’t have enough room to complement each one who deserves it.
The March sisters (Anne Gordon, Christy Duffin, Leisl Cope, and Joni Newman) were all very well cast with strong voices and characters. Robin Booth (who also directed) played Marmee beautifully. The men in the cast were also well played (Gregory Duffin as Laurie, Sean Hunter as John Brooke, Eric Ramaekers as Professor Bhaer) but, through no fault of his own, I couldn’t get comfortable with Duffin as Laurie. He is a talented actor and singer, but seemed mis-cast. He appeared too be old for the part, and I wondered a few times if they had considered placing him instead in the role of Mr. Brooks or Bhaer, both older/more mature characters. Perhaps I am to blame, as I will always envision a young Christian Bale as Laurie and it’s difficult to alter that expectation. The cast is rounded out with Dana Anquoe, a domineering Aunt March, and Harold Davis as Mr.Laurence. I suspect Mr. Davis is a remarkably kind gentleman, because playing an angry, ranting Mr.Laurence seemed pretty uncomfortable for him. Once he dropped the gruff demeanor and showed kindness to the March family, his performance improved significantly.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the set, which was wonderfully detailed and allowed flawless movement from scene to scene; the costumes, which were beautiful and well fit; the stage crew, who were rarely seen, but when they were it was with stealth; and especially the sound. There was some “over-flow” of sound with movement on stage, but it’s what was missing that I appreciate: no feed-back, no inadvertent talking from a backstage mic, no “forgetting” to turn a mic on, and no weird moments where you can’t tell who’s talking or from where. Sound faded in and out flawlessly, as did the lights, and I applaud the tech crew for a job well done, especially considering the temporary surroundings.
At the risk of revealing spoilers, I also have to complement those responsible for the kite (which mesmerized me) and the fact that following Beth’s final scene, she was lovingly carried off stage by an appropriate cast member, rather than jumping up and sprinting off in the dark. Thank you.
Robin Booth’s experience and talent is evident in this production. I will always cringe just a little when “. . . the Musical” is added to a title (and I lost some feeling in the lower regions thanks to the folding chairs), but I enjoyed myself immensely. This is a small company with a passion for theater. Don’t let the “smallness” fool you, the result is astonishing.
Little Women, the Musical plays at Merit Academy, 1440 W. Center in Springville June 18, 22, 23, 25, 29, 30, and July 2 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are only $7/$8 and can be purchased at the door with cash, check or credit card.