Two pianos sit under a simple, wooden, A-frame house, lit by the yellow glow of string bulb lights, settling the audience into the life of the March household during the Civil War. Louisa May Alcott’s esteemed novel, “Little Women,” has taken on many forms, including seven movie adaptations, eight television renditions, three audio dramas, and, of course, the Broadway musical adaptation which has made its way to NextStop Theatre Company’s stage.
…chock full of exceptional talent…
Published in 1868, the novel was intended as a “girl’s book,” a task that Alcott took begrudgingly. Writing a manuscript that she considered “dull,” the book’s immediate success surprised both her and her publisher. Inspired by her own family, the book has been celebrated for its realistic portrayal of women, not as archetypes but as multifaceted human beings.
Parading around the stage with her jaw set and her green skirt flowing behind her was Alex De Bard as Jo March. De Bard’s self-assurance emanated through her every word and action. Equipped with a leather satchel and a string-bound journal, De Bard’s wide-eyed dreams and anticipation embodied self-assurance and self-esteem for all to admire. In “Astonishing,” she soared to astonishing heights as her deep and resonant voice filled the theater. De Bard broke her analytical air at the appropriate moments, especially during “Fire Within Me,” in which her countenance softened, and her voice turned surprisingly soulful.
The March family was chock full of exceptional talent. Heading the household was Katie McManus as Marmee. Depicting the difficulty of being a stranded military spouse, her deep and emotionally charged vibrato in “Here Alone” resonated throughout the theater. Abby Middleton played the eldest daughter, Meg, and had a trembling and high soprano that impressed during her brief stints as Clarissa and completed the robust harmonies during family numbers like “Five Forever.” Caroline Graham excelled in the role of Beth. As the sweet and demure sister of the group, she can easily become a contented and emotionless character. Graham imbued the role with doses of humanity—her giddiness during scenes with her sisters and slow confidence during “Off to Massachusetts,” showing true excitement, benevolence, and joy that contributes to the tearful and heart-wrenching end to her character arc. Tori Gomez played the youngest and most put-upon sister, Amy. With a perpetual pout and furrowed eyebrows plastered on her face, Gomez’s child-like energy and petulance allowed for vast character change that was evident and enjoyable. As Aunt March, Michelle Harmon Bruno was a mentor during this evolution, her strict demeanor and stately attitude serving as a stark contrast to the impulsive March sisters, especially during “Could You?”
Stepping into the role of Laurie for the night was Jeremy Allen Crawford. Gawky and goofy, Crawford’s doe-eyed innocence was adorable and contagious during “Take a Chance on Me.” His puppy-dog energy contrasted with Jo’s stubbornness, creating a lovely duo. Michael Sherman was unyielding as Mr. Laurence, his hardened exterior melted by the kindness of the March household. John Sygar’s portrayal of John Brooke was kind, serving as a perfect opposite to Meg’s romanticism, and additionally serving opposite her as the hip-thrusting Braxton. Grounding the group in scholarly predictability was Harrison Smith as Professor Bhaer. Smith was commendable, his innate dissonance between the life he’s known and the life he wants creating a lovely contrast during “How I Am.”
Dominic DeSalvio’s lighting design utilized both stage lights and different levels of bulb string lights, creating different atmospheres for a variety of locations and seamlessly changing the ambiance. Gordon Nimmo-Smith’s sound design was impeccable, projecting the cast’s voices without interruption. Alexa Duimstra’s costume designs accurately reflected the characters’ personalities, although a few pieces did not meet the standard of the others, taking one out of the moment occasionally. Nadir Bey’s scenic design created a homey atmosphere, pairing well with the period-accurate property design by Janelle Woods. The technical crews could not have been complete without the two exceptional pianists, Elisa Rosman and Scott Richards, who backed the entirety of the show. Their music was beautiful, providing a well-balanced and professional undertone to the entire production.
This familiar classic is brought to life on the NextStop stage, bringing comfort and appreciation of this seminal work to a new generation.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“Little Women” plays weekends through September 25, 2022, at NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Drive Herndon, Virginia 20170. Tickets for all performances are $50. Tickets can be reserved online and will also be available at the door.