This weekend, The Heritage Players presented a live-streamed production of “Little Women: The Broadway Musical” on March 20 and 21, 2021. The book is by Allan Knee with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howard. It is based on the classic, semi-autobiographical book by Louisa May Alcott. The show was produced by Stuart Kazanow and directed by Tommy Malek.
The play takes place at the end of the Civil War and centers on the March family. The patriarch has gone off to war while the mother, Marmee (Katy Stevens), stays at home raising her four daughters, Meg (Madeline Huss), Jo (Alyssa Wellman Houde), Beth (Mary Bingham), and Amy (Gretchen Midgley). I would wager that a majority of American females have either read the novel or seen one of the several movies based on the story. However, if you have not, I will try not to spoil too much.
Meg, the older sister, is the most sensible and domestic of the siblings. Jo, the central character, is an early feminist. An aspiring writer, she is strong and smart, a bit of a tomboy, has male friends, but does not want to marry just anyone. Beth is the frail and sweet one. Finally, Amy, the prettiest and youngest of the four, is a bit flighty and self-absorbed. Their neighbor, Laurie (Jordan Sledd), is a wealthy young man who becomes Jo’s best friend.
The show opens after the Civil War. Jo is trying to get published in New York City and living on her own at a boarding house. She has made friends with a German immigrant, Professor Bhaer (Ryan Wagner). Bhaer encourages Jo’s writing, a melodramatic tale retold in “An Operatic Tragedy,” but tells her she needs to improve.
From the boarding house in New York, we are taken back in time to Concord, Massachusetts and the March home during the middle of the Civil War. The father is a chaplain in the army and Marmee is raising the girls. It’s Christmas and the four siblings plan to perform a play written by Jo called “Our Finest Dreams.” The two eldest, Meg and Jo, go to a St. Valentine’s Day Ball where Meg falls for Mr. John Brooke (Sean Garcia), a tutor for their neighbor’s grandson, Laurie. Jo and Laurie meet and become become fast friends. There are other characters like pompous and wealthy Aunt March (Jane Margulies Kalbfeld) and the stuffy and successful Mr. Lawrence (Wayne Ivusich), the March’s neighbor.
‘Little Women: The Broadway Musical’ is a sweet look at New England life during the Civil War and after. It will make you laugh and cry. The Heritage Players captured both the humor and the pathos of the musical.
Tommy Malek’s fine direction helped smooth out some of the problems with the musical which ran for a short time on Broadway in 2004. Developed at a Duke University Workshop, it probably works best for an intimate theater like The Heritage Players or a university workshop. The problem with the plot line is that it tries to cover too much, so there is not enough time for character development. The music is sweet but not memorable. That being said, it was still quite enjoyable even for a person like myself who is very sentimental about the novel. The vocals were done beautifully and I am always amazed at the talent of local community theater groups in this regard. Malek gathered a truly amazing troupe of vocalists. He also used visual cameos of the performers with a photo backdrop behind them in this live-stream version. The backdrops depicted the March home (including the attic where Jo writes), the ball, the boarding house, a beach house at Falmouth, Massachusetts, and more. He also utilizes snippets of film of flowers, mountains, etc. to fill the scene changes. This technique was perfect for the show.
Houde captured Jo brilliantly from the strong-minded teenager to the accomplished woman. Jo is the one character that develops as life often sets her and the family reeling — from her father’s illness while serving in the war to Beth’s sickness, and finally, to the “loss” of her other sisters to marriage and family. Houde was outstanding in her song “The Fire Within Me” in Act II which reveals Jo’s desires.
Stevens gave a heart-rending interpretation of “Days of Plenty” when as Marmee, she explained to Jo how we don’t prepare for sadness but how we learn to cope with it. As the three other sisters, Huss, Brigham, and Midgley also gave excellent performances. Along with another outstanding turn by Sledd as Laurie, the group harmonized wonderfully in “Five Forever.”
Garcia and Huss sang a sweet romantic duet, “More Than I Am.” Ivusich and Brigham also did a duet, “Off to Massachusetts,” when the crotchety neighbor is softened by the sweetness of Beth’s piano playing. Even Aunt March had a duet with Jo as the matron tries to get her niece to change her ways in “Could You.” Kalbfeld also has a great voice and is a fine actor.
I really enjoyed the performance of Wagner as Professor Bhaer. In “How I Am,” he tenderly sings his letters to Jo after she has returned home, and hints at his love for her. That and his prickly duet with Jo, “Small Umbrella in the Rain,” were highlights in Act II.
I also would be remiss if I did not compliment the two ensemble numbers created from Jo’s novel, “An Operatic Tragedy,” and then in Act II, “The Weekly Volcano Press.” Both numbers were done perfectly for the home viewing.
Rachel Sandler’s musical direction was praiseworthy. She managed to keep all the performers on key though I gather they were not all at the same location. The same credit should go to the sound supervisor, William K. D’Eugenio. Despite the challenges of a live, virtual performance, I could hear almost every word and the music never overpowered the performers.
Lisa Dickinson’s costumes were nicely in period and reflected the social status of the characters. I really loved the costumes in the two novel recreation numbers mentioned previously. Malek also assisted with costumes and helped create the wigs.
“Little Women: The Broadway Musical” is a sweet look at New England life during and after the Civil War. It will make you laugh and cry. The Heritage Players captured both the humor and the pathos of the musical. I was sorry it only had two performance and hope that they were able to film the musical for future viewing.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.
“Little Women: The Broadway Musical” was presented live on March 20-21, 2021. If you want to see what other projects The Heritage Players will be doing in the future, go to their website. UPDATE: The theater has extended it’s run Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 28 at 2 p.m.