When I saw the listing for a musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic children’s novel “Little Women” produced by Third Wall Productions, I knew I had to see it. As a child who received a precious antique copy of the book from my grandmother, I eagerly turned the pages and was drawn into a Civil War era world where four sisters struggle together to grow up buffeted by true-to-life bouts of anger and arguments, love, loyalty, trials, romance, and grief. Their adventures aren’t extraordinary; rather, it’s the heart-warming ordinariness of family that makes the story magical.
… the heart and the characterizations of the March sisters and Marmee are spot on to the novel and it was a pleasure to see my beloved childhood characters brought to life with such accurate understanding by the actors.
And it is that realistic family connection that Third Wall Productions conveys so brilliantly in this musical adaptation of “Little Women” which I saw on Opening Night, May 12, 2017. The shining star of the play (as of the novel) is Jo March, played with fiery passion by Grace Dillon. Jo is an aspiring author who loves to concoct ridiculously dramatic tales of romance and gore and Dillon perfectly conveyed her intensity and passion in every word and gesture. I was utterly captivated by Dillon’s performance and felt she brought the character of Jo to vivid life. Whether fighting with a sister or friend, or forgiving and making up, or having tender moments with her beloved Beth, Dillon brought the wide range of emotion and drama that was needed to the part. I am shocked that Dillon is only a senior in high school! I am quite sure that she has a bright future in theatre ahead of her.
Although the play told the story through Jo’s lens, she was supported by a host of wonderfully talented cast members. While the other characters weren’t meant to have as rambunctious a personality as Jo, they each had their own quirks and charm and each one felt fully realized which provided the necessary complement to Jo’s larger than life personality.
I especially loved Lizzy Jackson as the youngest sister Amy March. As the youngest, Amy was somewhat spoiled and cranky at times, and Jackson was a comedic delight in delivering the most hilarious moments of the show in the fury and rage of an angry child. During one vicious argument with Jo, when Jo threatens to choke her, Jackson brought the house down with her delivery of the retort “Go on! I bare my throat to you!” as she lunged towards Jo, neck extended. Jackson had a complete grasp on her character’s motivation and had me laughing time and again throughout the show.
The second comedy master surprised me in that it was the character of Aunt March, played with brilliance by Patricia Brunker. In the book, Aunt March is a dour, crotchety old lady with not a hint of humor about her. I think that the play authors, Allan Knee (book) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics), were smart to add some haughty humor to Aunt March’s role as it added needed levity to the play. Brunker smirked and sashayed her way through her role with the superior affect befitting a rich and cranky old matriarch and I was highly amused from beginning to end.
The girls’ mother, Marmee, was played with quiet dignity and wisdom by Christine Thomas, who also directed the play. Thomas has an amazing voice, and small wonder as she’s performed extensively as an opera singer. Listening to her solos was one of the richest treats of the show.
Another standout singer was Mea Holloway in the role of Beth March. Although her singing voice wasn’t featured alone until later in the show, it was well worth waiting for! Her high notes and tone were exquisite. Holloway brought a sweetness to Beth that perfectly depicted the novel’s characterization. I especially enjoyed Holloway’s big smiles and her gentle demeanor as it really contrasted with Jo and Amy.
I found J. Purnell Hargrove’s portrayal of Laurie, the next-door neighbor, utterly whimsical and delightful. Hargrove brought a light-hearted silliness to the role that I wouldn’t have necessarily extrapolated from the novel, but it made the play dynamic and fun to watch. I truly loved every scene he was in.
Maggie Flanigan did a wonderful job as oldest sister Meg March. She portrayed the maturity that Jo was lacking and she and Andrew Pedrick as John Brooke were charming with their romantic storyline. The supporting cast of Daniel Plante as Jo’s love interest (the sweet and somewhat shy Professor Bhaer), Michael Zellhofer as the intimidating Mr. Laurence, Michelle Hosier as the overly eager landlady Mrs. Kirk, and Lauren DeSha, Patrick Rudai, Amy Rudai and the Rudai family as the excessively dramatic players in Jo’s fantastical tales, all brought their full energy and dedication to their roles.
The set design by Jordan Hollett with assistance from Pat Rudai brought to life the Civil War setting of the play. I enjoyed how the theatre wrapped around the seating in a semi-circle to have four separate sets. I loved the living room set with its flowered wallpaper, brick fireplace, antique brocade couch, and portrait of Lincoln on the mantel. The attic room was my favorite as it was wallpapered in historic newspapers. The small sitting room also had just the right antique touches to draw us in. The far left set used a screen and projector to display some historic photos and drawings at opportune moments in order to give us the hint of the world outside the small rooms on the main stages.
I especially loved the costumes, of which many period Civil War costumes were on loan from the Baltimore Costume Library courtesy of House of Bankerd, which “[makes] resources available to community arts organizations so that they may produce quality productions.” The authentic costumes were truly a highlight of the show, and I applaud Costume Designer Lisa Ann Dickinson, Costume Assistant Maggie Flanigan, and Millinery Designer Marie Bankerd for choosing such appropriate pieces to represent the history and grandeur of the story.
One concern I had was that the live orchestra directed by Andrew Zile was sometimes louder than the dialogue. I hope that this will be an easy fix by turning the actors’ microphones up louder. In fairness to the superfans of the book, I have to warn you that there are many minor alterations to the story and characters. This might make you fret if you go in expecting it to be exactly the same as the book, so instead, I encourage you to go in and appreciate this play as its own story loosely based on the novel. While details may be different, the heart and the characterizations of the March sisters and Marmee are spot on to the novel and it was a pleasure to see my beloved childhood characters brought to life with such accurate understanding by the actors.
I highly recommend “Little Women” by Third Wall Productions, not only for the fabulous supporting cast members but especially for the breakout performance of Grace Dillon as Jo March. I can still feel her passion and fervor the day after the performance and I promise you that you will be swept away as she guides you through the story of “Little Women.”
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with one intermission.
“Little Women” by Third Wall Productions plays through May 21, 2017, in Baltimore, MD. For more information, click here.