Theater

Review: Little Women, The Broadway Musical

Cast members for "Little Women", including (clockwise from top left:) Ariella Simandl portraying Beth March, Emily Joelle Robles portraying Meg March, Tania Joy portraying Marmee, Jessica Dawson portraying Jo March, Lara Bell portraying Amy March, pose for promotional photos.
Cast members for "Little Women", including (clockwise from top left:) Ariella Simandl portraying Beth March, Emily Joelle Robles portraying Meg March, Tania Joy portraying Marmee, Jessica Dawson portraying Jo March, Lara Bell portraying Amy March, pose for promotional photos.

"Little Women," the novel by Louisa May Alcott, is a rollercoaster of emotions following the lives of the four March sisters during the Civil War. The musical condenses the novel to focus on a four-year period and this adaptation does not disappoint.

From the onset, you get grit and determination from Jo, played with aplomb by Jessica Dawson. This role is the keystone for "Little Women " as many other roles must play off Jo’s emotions. From her strong characterization to vocal talent, Dawson pulls it off magnificently.

Strength also defines the role of Marmee March. As a mother raising four girls when her husband is off to war, she has to toggle between soft touch and iron will. Not only does Tania Joy absorb into the role, her strong early solo sets a high bar for the rest of the musical numbers.

The audience is introduced to the high-spirited Jo struggling to sell her stories in New York City before being whisked back to the March home in Massachusetts. The changeover succeeds with a well-designed set, keeping time between scene changes to a minimum.

Intimate scenes are played tight in front of a curtain and wider, more active scenes in the well-designed March home’s interior once the black curtain is pulled back. A brilliant move by director Roger Zawacki was to place actors recreating Jo’s short story behind a scrim to keep audience’s eyes riveted on both Jo’s antics and her story’s characters.

Once we are in the home, the interaction with the four sisters becomes seamless. Emily Joell Robles digs into her role as Meg March, the ‘follower’ sister most likely to marry first. Larisa Bell as Amy March commands the stage when necessary as the bratty sister who always seems to think she’s being forgotten. We cannot forget Ariella Simandl’s performance of Beth March. If it doesn’t bring tears to your eyes then you are not human.

It’s not a complete sob story. There is joy, especially in the dance numbers. The dances in this adaptation are succinct, crisp numbers well choreographed by Maggie McCord. They were married with excellent Civil War period costuming by Costume Designer Teagan Anderson. How Christi Nicholson, playing Aunt March, moved so graciously in a hoop skirt the size of a small planet amazed me.

The orchestra is as it should be, an accompaniment. While some seats in the Woodstock Opera House can’t help have the music command one’s ear as there is not a pit, the music was not overwhelming. Well done by Music Director Rosemarie Liotine-Aiello.

There are men in the musical and they should be noted for the important roles they play in the growth of the March sisters. The suppressed German Professor Bhaer is played to perfection by Alex Fayer. His persona and clothing binds him, making him fun to watch. The goofy Laurie (Ethan Sherman), irascible Mr. Laurence (Chris Griffin) and reticent John Brooke (John Barnett) all performed well in their complementary roles.

Minor beef, but the beef falls on the writer. If you have not have read "Little Women," there is very little indication of the time period. We know the March father is at war and he gets hospitalized. What war remains a mystery until later in the second act when Meg’s beau John volunteers to fight and is dressed as a Union soldier. Making an assumption your audience walks in armed with knowledge can often be a detriment.

That being said, this adaptation is a high-grade production that could grace a lot of stages across the Chicagoland area. We are privileged to have it in Woodstock. From vocal quality to dance performance to overall direction, Townsquare Players adaptation of "Little Women" is a treat.

• Rick Copper is a writer, photographer, storyteller, part-time actor and comedian with a framed master’s degree from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and a loose Certificate of Completion sheet of paper from Second City’s Improv program. Published works include “Crystal Lake: incorporation of a city 1914-2014.”

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