LITTLE WOMEN ran for only 137 performances on Broadway, kept alive for that long, I suspect, by mothers and grandmothers who had read and loved the book and wanted to share the joy with their daughters and granddaughters.
Stages tried, they really did, but the music, lyrics and book were just not good enough to bring to life a beloved classic that stressed family togetherness under the harsh circumstances of the Civil War and a female who wanted to be a writer only to be told by publishers to “go home and have babies.” Do today’s little girls know how held down women were in the 19th and early 20th centuries?
The story is told in flashback and flash forward. It opens with Jo March (Mellissa Rittman) living in a boarding house in New York trying to get her stories published. She tells her latest rejected story to a German professor (Don Swenson) living in the same boarding house. As she tells it, she acts out the parts while it is being mimed behind a scrim by members of the cast doing dual roles as her story characters and her family and friends at home in Concord, Mass. The coordination between Jo and the story cast was excellent. Then she goes home.
Flashback to Concord, Massachusetts where Marmee, the mother (Cathy Liebars), and her 3 sisters, Meg (Jessica Bier), Beth: (Felice Capece), and Amy (Kat Kline), live as best they can on their own, while their father fights for the North. Jo, (in her tomboy fashion) cuts down a Christmas tree on the neighbor’s property and in comes the mean and blustering neighbor, Mr. Lawrence (Dan Patrick) and his grandson, Laurie (Bryan Enright). Laurie has a tutor, Mr. Brooke (Jason MacDermott). Mr. March has a wealthy, aged sister whom the girls call Aunt March (Elaine Fydrych) who is mean and haughty and had planned to take Jo to Europe for “the tour” but disapproves of her demeanor and takes Amy instead.
Act I limps along setting up the characters and their interaction with each other but if you didn’t read the book you would have to know the era and pay very close attention. The act ends with a solo by Ms. Rittman who had been wonderful in every way up to that point, but during this number sounded as if she was struggling with a throat problem.
Amy is supposed to be 12 or 13 but was so heavily made up she looked like a Jon Benet Ramsey type beauty contestant. Her hair and costume were perfect for her age but the heavy, bright makeup was dreadful. Same makeup in Act II when she’s older and getting married worked somewhat better. Professor Bhaer, from Germany , had and accent that was barely discernible. The singing voices of all except Ms. Rittman, who sings, acts and moves professionally, are adequate most of the time, very good some of the time. The acting, however, is consistently spotty. Mr. Enright is quite good in his role, singing and acting well; Mr. MacDermott does an excellent job with what little he has to work with and has a very good singing voice; Ms. Kline is suitably bratty in Act I, odd in Act II. The rest of the cast is either so over the top or so far under that their performances become unforgettable.
There’s a lot of running: across the stage and back, across the stage to exit. The excessive movement lacked motivation and so, didn’t convey energy, but just seemed like unnecessary movement. This issue appears to be one of direction.
The moving of the set by cast members breaks the mood but the two girls dressed as parlor maids who cleared props were just right. A few more crew members in period dress to move the set in and out should have been added.
The set design worked. It’s minimal and pieces turn to transform into something else and a well done A frame piece denoting the attic drops when needed. The appearance of a brick half wall in the Act II garden scene was somewhat puzzling, since the wall had not been used in Act I.
The 8 piece band played well and was well-modulated, allowing the singers to be heard without overpowering them.
This is a show for young girls and their relatives who loved the classic by Louisa May Alcott.
LITTLE WOMEN: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL
Book by Allan Knee (based on the story by Louisa May Alcott)
Music by Jason Howland
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Directed by Marjorie Sokoloff
December 3 – 11, 2010
Stages at Camden County College
Dennis J. Flyer Memorial Theatre
200 College Drive
Blackwood, NJ 08012
(856) 227-7200 ext. 4737