Colonial Players' Little Women
Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is one of those novels you either love or love to forget. It’s sweet or cloying, buoyant or overblown, fiery or flagging — and so is the musical, Colonial Players’ last offering of 2011. Jason Howland’s contemporary score, embellished with eight period songs to cover scene changes, offers some highs and humdrum, presented by some gifted performers and a supporting cast of sweet young things. Think Broadway meets Victorian parlor recital.
Director Beverly van Joolen makes good on her promise to “whisk you back to a quieter, more gentle era.” But it’s an era covered so often in this region that it rarely excites. The set feels right. The parade of costumes is impressive. This cast studied deportment, Civil War letters and the novel in an effort to bring historical accuracy to their roles, and it shows. Still, there’s something missing. It’s called urgency.
The March family are five women waiting for Mr. March’s return from war. There’s independent Jo (Emily Sergo); shy Meg (Kaelynn Miller); sweet Beth (Bronwyn van Joolen); vain Amy (Hallie Parrot the young Amy and Karen Grim the older); and their adoring Marmee (Wendy Baird).
They are a sisterhood as varied as all siblings, but they are perfect children by modern standards, even when they misbehave. They romp with their young neighbor, the dashing heir Laurie (Jeffrey Walter), who is smitten with Jo. They dream of romance through Jo’s fanciful tales. Then they grow up.
Meg marries Mr. Brooke (Chris Leabhart), Laurie’s tutor. Bridezilla Amy catches Laurie on the rebound. Jo will marry an intellectual, Professor Bhaer (Kevin James Logan). Beth dies, and Daddy lives, facts I trust will come as no great surprise to most theater-goers. Stern Aunt March (Beth Terranova) and crotchety Mr. Laurence (Ed Wintermute) periodically track turmoil into the abode, and nine supporting actors (mostly children) act out Jo’s tales of passion and peril.
The leads are well cast and talented singers, but Sergo, Baird, Logan and Walter are stunning. Still, my favorite moment is van Joolen and Wintermute’s rousing duet Off to Massachusetts, the ditty that will tickle your brain for days. Other highlights include Walter’s romantic plea Take a Chance on Me, Logan’s bitter reflection How I A, and Sergo and van Joolen’s sentimental duet Some Things Are Meant to Be.
For dramatic entertainment, Terranova takes the prize, her every look and step nuanced for effect as the insufferable snob.
Judging by audience reaction, I recommend this show for young romantics and mature ladies nostalgic for Grandma’s tales, but it is a rare man who will be enthralled by this story.
Ever since Colonial Players changed A Christmas Carol to a biennial event, the company has been conflicted about how to honor the holiday. This year the one holiday scene in Little Women is played for all it’s worth. There’s a tree in the lobby, carolers and pre-show events, including Stories with Santa on Sun., Nov. 27 and a holiday sing-along on Sat., Nov. 26, all at 1pm.
Come early for Christmas and for a Civil War slide show in the lobby.
Little Women by Knee, Dickstein and Howland. Director: Beverly Hill van Joolen. Choreographer: Alicia B. Sweeney. Set designer: Pat Browning. Sound designer: Wes Bedsworth. Light designer: Terry Averill. Costumer: Julie Bays. Vocal director: Deborah Brown. Conductor and accompanist: Ryan Shookman.
Playing Th Nov. 17 thru Sa Dec. 3 at 8pm Th-Sa; 2pm Su; 2pm Nov. 26; at Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-267-6580; thecolonialplayers.org.